Germany's Constitutional Court has begun hearing complaints from more than a hundred thousand activists who want to stop a free trade deal between the EU and Canada, claiming it undermines democratic rights.
Three German pressure groups - Campact, Foodwatch and More Democracy - arrived at Germany's Constitutional Court on Wednesday with 70 boxes of documents, containing 125,000 signatures of people who want the country's highest court to stop the government signing the EU-Canada free trade deal next week.
The opponents fear the agreement - officially called Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) - will undermine workers' rights and environmental and consumer standards.
The court said it would hold proceedings on Oct. 12 and rule on the emergency appeal a day later.
The European Commission hopes that the governments of the EU states can approve CETA before Brussels signs the accord with Ottawa on Oct. 27. The European Parliament would also need to vote to allow it to enter force provisionally next year.
Alongside TTIP - a free trade agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and the United States - CETA is the EU's most ambitious trade pact to date. It aims to eliminate tariffs on 98 percent of goods immediately. It would also encompass regulatory cooperation, shipping, sustainable development and access to government tenders.
But it has been a key target of protests by unions and environmental and other groups who say it will worsen labor conditions and allow big business to challenge governments across Europe.
Uncertain future for CETA
There are also concerns about CETA in other EU countries. Austrian chancellor Christian Kern has said that the German court ruling will strongly influence his country's position on CETA.
Kern said Austria's decision would also depend on negotiations still going on between EU states and Canada on a declaration accompanying the deal. "I hope that by then we have improved this contract enough that it is acceptable to us," he said. Canada has emphasized that the declaration will not add new elements to the deal.
In Belgium, parliament in the region of Wallonia passed a resolution in April opposing the ratification of CETA. The move was followed by the Brussels-Capital region in July, meaning that Belgium cannot give permission to the agreement at the upcoming Council of the European Union meeting.
Strong resistance against CETA is also reported from Slovenia, Hungary and Romania, the latter of which said its support was conditional on Canada agreeing to a separate deal to allow visa-free travel access.
uhe/jd (Reuters, dpa)