Like David versus Goliath, Wallonia balks at CETA | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 20.10.2016

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Like David versus Goliath, Wallonia balks at CETA

At an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium's Wallonia region has again rejected a proposed free trade deal between the EU and Canada, known as CETA. It says that its demands are not being met. Brussels is losing its patience.

Watch video 01:10

Facts and figures about CETA

The government building in the capital of Wallonia, Namur, is called "Elysette," which means little Elysee Palace. It is a grand overstatement, much like calling the small city a major metropolis. Nevertheless, the Walloon rooster is flapping its wings and crowing so loud that it can be heard throughout the whole of Europe.

The tiny Belgian region is continuing to block the free-trade agreement between the European Union and Canada. Wallonia's Prime Minister Paul Magnette sees no reason to apologize. During an emergency meeting on Thursday evening, Wallonia reaffirmed its opposition to CETA, rejecting new amendments to the agreement.

Is the tail wagging the dog?

Twenty-seven-and-a-half EU member states, among them, the northern Belgian region of Flanders, have all endorsed CETA. Does Magnette feel like David fighting Goliath?

"I'm sorry that our region is so small. But Wallonia is still larger than seven other EU member states," he told DW.

Indeed, the young head of government seems to be enjoying his moment in the international spotlight.

"This treaty will influence the lives of 500 million Europeans and 35 million Canadians for a long time," he said. "It is supposed to be a template for further treaties that the EU intends to ratify for us. Therefore, it would be best if we were to take our time and ultimately craft a very good deal."  

But why so much drama at the last minute on a deal that has been being negotiated for seven years? Magnette contends it is not his fault, saying that he informed the European Commission of his reservations last year.

"But they didn't talk to me about it until October 5," he said. "If we had started earlier, there wouldn't be so much pressure now."

And he is not impressed in the least by the concept of an ultimatum. If the EU-Canada Summit next week has to be cancelled on his account - so be it, Magnette said. The door is still ajar.

Belgien Tagung des Parlaments zu Freihandelsabkommen CETA Proteste

Magnette, seen here addressing the Walloon parliament, has no qualms with holding up CETA

Magnette defends his unflinching stance

Ahead of Thursday's meeting, the Walloon prime minister did not discount the possibility of a last-minute agreement.

"Today the ball is truly in the Commission's court," Magnette said. "I explained our problems to them as clearly as possible yesterday [Wednesday]. I have already spoken with the Canadians, and they were very open, just as they were when [German Economics Minister and Vice Chancellor] Sigmar Gabriel was in Ottawa. I expect to receive a document within the next few hours and we will make our decision based on that document."

Deutschland Berlin - Sigmar Gabriel legt aktuelle Konjunkturprognose vor

Gabriel has been a major proponent of CETA

Not all Walloons saying no

CETA seems to be the main topic of conversation in the region right now. The young and old people on Namur's main street all have an opinion on it.

"TTIP and CETA, it's all the same thing," said a young woman who declares that she is against globalization. An older pedestrian sporting a somewhat shaggy hippie look is of the same opinion: "I am for the region; globalization is not the right answer." And a young man out shopping agreed with them: "They have their own ethical and environmental norms over there - they are no good for us, because they will sink our standards."

None of the three are willing to believe assurances from Brussels and the media that CETA is a good deal. "I read a lot of other things on NGO websites," said the young lady opposed to globalization. 

Not all Walloons want to block Europe

Not everyone is in support of the blocking the deal, however. Marinot stops for a second on the bridge crossing the Meuse river, saying, "I don't think that it is very democratic that a little region like Wallonia can hold up all of Europe. How crazy is that? What are France, Germany or Great Britain supposed to think of us?"

One resident taking his dog for a walk thinks democracy has gone astray: "The little man has nothing to say. We are just waiting to hear what the governments think. And we were actually for the agreement."

Belgien Ardennen Kühe

Many farmers in Wallonia are concerned about the impact of CETA

Farmers still the obstacle

At the farmers' market, beekeeper Jacques Marr could care less about CETA: "I'm such a small farmer, it doesn't affect me. But all of my neighbors who own big farms are against it."

Fifteen minutes outside the city lies the tiny village of Bouge. Michel Doens operates a picture-perfect farm there, full of dairy cows and feed production.

"I don't think free trade is good for small farmers, it's just good for big industrial farmers," he said. "It may be that Wallonia is isolated within Europe now, but we have our reasons."

Neither he nor the farmers' associations trust the European Commission's guarantees that European environmental and social standards will be upheld by CETA. And Michel says that if his government keeps saying no until the bitter end, then that is just fine with him.