Having learned absolutely ZERO from Brexit.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
The European Commission, it seems, will never learn. Despite the existential crisis caused by Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the serious questions being raised about the EU’s gaping lack of democratic legitimacy, the European Commission just escalated its assault on European democracy. This week the Commission announced that it would ratify CETA, the controversial trade deal between Canada and the EU, as a unilateral EU agreement, not as a so-called mixed agreement.
What that means is that the national parliaments of the 27 remaining EU member states will have no influence whatsoever over the approval process, even though (or more likely because) the trade agreement will have huge, sweeping effects on the society, governance, and economy of all the nations concerned. In other words, the EU’s democratic deficit, one of the decisive factors in Britain’s decision to sever the cord from Brussels, just got a whole lot bigger. Yet it was barely reported in the press.
Here’s more from Euractiv, one of the few English-language media outlets that actually bothered to cover the story:
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reportedly told EU leaders on Tuesday (28 June) that the Commission considers the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) an “EU-only” agreement and would propose next week (5 July) a simple approval procedure…
“The agreement we have made with Canada is the best agreement the EU has ever made,” Juncker said, insisting that the Commission had come to the conclusion that CETA was not a mixed agreement, after a detailed analysis. “But if the member states decide legal opinions are not valid in politics then I am the last person that would stand in their way.”
Juncker went on to say that it was a false debate. “None of the member states have a problem with the content of this agreement,” he insisted, adding he had asked the leaders this individually while they were here in Brussels.
And that is how democracy works — or better put, doesn’t work — in Europe today.
The European Commission has repeatedly responded to public criticism of the hyper-secret trade agreements it has been negotiating by pledging that when the time comes for their ratification, the elected representatives of each Member State will be consulted. Now, it is saying quite the opposite (in classic Juncker fashion): a few nods of approval from a few heads of state over a gourmet meal, together with the approval of the generally acquiescent EU parliament, is now all that’s needed to pass the agreement into law.
Pushing CETA through in this manner would naturally fuel fears that all other planned future trade agreements, including the game-changing TTIP and TiSA, would be bulldozed into law in similar fashion, as many “conspiracy theorists,” as Euractiv put it, have long been warning would happen.
But it’s not just “conspiracy theorists” who are questioning the wisdom of bypassing national parliaments; so, too, are senior politicians, including German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. “If the Commission goes about CETA like this, then TTIP is dead,” Gabriel thundered, directly contradicting Juncker’s preposterous claim that “none of the member countries have a problem with the agreement.”
Gabriel is not alone. Even Merkel has expressed reservations about Juncker’s latest diktat. Talking to the press, she said that the Commission can be overruled by the Council. “For Germany, I can say that however it ends we will ask for an opinion from the Bundestag,” she stressed.
French president Francois Hollande is no less adamant — in public, at least — that the vote on CETA should be put to each national parliament. “I am in favor of an EU-Canada deal, but I believe it is necessary to have debates in each of the national parliaments. That will certainly take longer, but it is part of what we should provide in terms of democratic control,” he said speaking to the press at the end of the EU summit.
In other words, it appears that the leaders (and deputy leader) of the two most powerful EU nations oppose the EU’s decision to bypass national parliaments.
So why don’t they do something about it?
The answer to that, as we previously suggested, is that all this desperate hand-wringing is mainly, if not purely, for public consumption. That way, Europe’s national leaders can bemoan the Commission’s trampling on national democracy and blame it for all the pain that TTIP, CETA and TiSA eventually cause while washing their own hands of responsibility. It’s the perfect alibi.
In the meantime resolutions calling for CETA to be treated as a mixed agreement are waiting to be passed in a number of national parliaments, including the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Hungary. But even if national parliaments vote CETA down, the Commission could overrule them by passing what’s called “provisional implementation” of the agreement, which would mean that the treaty’s main provisions, including the creation of a corporate court system, would stay in effect for up to three years.
On a somewhat more positive note, as Techdirt reports, plans for closer economic union between North America and the North Atlantic were further compromised this week, thanks to the people of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. The EU’s Commissioner for trade, Cecilia Malmström, called it “A midsummer night’s nightmare.” She also insisted, in time-honored Brussels tradition, that she would press on regardless:
I am determined to make as much progress as possible in the months to come. This is particularly true for our negotiations with the United States on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Thankfully, the stark reality of eternal stalemate and gathering public opposition on both sides of the Atlantic should be enough to thwart the Commissioner’s ambitions. As Politico reports, an EU shorn (at least in theory) of its second largest economy makes for a much less attractive trading partner:
We certainly lose an important market,” said MEP Bernd Lange, the chair of the European Parliament’s international trade committee, of the U.K. “In a way, that means losing leverage.”
Losing that leverage will make it even harder to wring meaningful concessions out of the US. Now the Commission faces the impossible task of selling a trade agreement that exclusively serves corporate interests to an increasingly skeptical European public, leaving it with little choice but to ride roughshod, once again, over democratic process. And that, as we just learnt, can be a very dangerous road to travel, especially with public support for European institutions plumbing unprecedented depths. By Don Quijones, Raging Bull-Shit.
The EU is taking its anti-democratic approach to a whole new level. Read… Is the EU Preparing for Another Stealth Coup?