The Walloon/Belgian CETA debate is concentrating on one aspect which is of lesser importance in the German-speaking world.
CETA is a new type of agreement and the prototype for as many future agreements of this type as possible with as many countries as possible. It is not merely a trade agreement but it is prefaced by CE which stands for “Comprehensive Economic”. The main thrust is not simply more trade but a long-term engagement of European policy.
Liberalisation moves to become irreversible
I would like to take a specific example to illustrate this point. Let us assume that a government liberalises a public service by law and hands it over to the private sector instead of regarding it as the domain of the public sector. In the future a different government, such as a Green government, could change this law again. The point of elections, after all, is that you get a different government with different policies.
CETA now contains a prohibition forbidding the reversal of liberalisation moves if a Canadian corporation is affected by the moves. This may not be a major problem in itself. Most importantly, the situation is not going to arise quickly and is presumably very unlikely to happen in the initial years after signing the agreement.
First of all, a Canadian corporation would have to invest, then the government would have to change and then it would have to want to reverse a deregulation of the market in the sector in which the corporation has invested. That is not going to happen for years. And if a case were to arise somewhere in Latvia or Portugal, people might just wonder what the fuss is all about.
CETA, the model neoliberal agreement
In the next few years, however, the Union wants to base many more agreements on the CETA model. The change will creep in gradually and we will find that the more countries with which we sign such agreements, the more often corporations will have this caveat. The easier it will be for international groups to choose the parent company for each investment in such a way that it is protected by an agreement.
We will then end up with a dense network of agreements which will render any retraction of deregulation impossible. Then you will be able to vote for whatever you want… but no government will be able to turn back the current tide of radical economic liberalism.
This is why the neoliberals are fighting tooth and nail for CETA and why we are so vehemently against it. It is not merely a matter of trading with a nice country with 35 million inhabitants. It is about keeping democratic options open for successive governments and about the question as to whether the neoliberals can set their policies in stone for the long term.
Wallonia premier Paul Magnette is not only a socialist but he is also a political scientist who has published his thoughts on European democracy and has taught at universities. He certainly knows what he is doing.