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Mass protest against CETA

Daniel HeinrichSeptember 1, 2016

German activists "Nein zu CETA" ("No to CETA") have filed the largest-ever civil lawsuit in German history. It could be a success for several reasons.

Demo gegen CETA und TTIP in Brüssel
Image: picture alliance/dpa/O. Hoslet

The free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), aims to stimulate the economy. Opponents, however, warn of the dangers. The "Nein zu CETA" activists have launched Germany's largest ever civil lawsuit.

Roman Huber the national manager of the organization "Mehr Demokratie" ("More democracy"), the complaint against the free trade agreement CETA with the German Constitutional Court.

Huber is particularly wary of plans to set up arbitration courts in the context of the agreement. "I do not at all understand why a new jurisdiction is being established. We live in constitutional states in the European Union and Canada," said Huber in an interview with DW.

He does not view Canadian companies as the biggest problem. "Through their Canadian subsidiaries, 40,000 US companies can sue the European Union, and all member states down to small towns." According to Huber, the door will open for compensation claims worth billions.

"I think that is absurd."

Roman Huber
Roman Huber spearheads the fight against CETAImage: MehrDemokratie e.V.

A broad alliance of opponents

This is the fifth constitutional complaint against CETA and is by far the most comprehensive. Apart from the "Mehr Demokratie" organization, other groups have joined the protest. In recent weeks, they have gathered 125,000 signatures that were presented to the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe this week.

The Cologne professor Bernhard Kempen initiated the complaint. He is see it as problematic that the precautionary principle under which stress or hazards for humans and the environment are prevented, has been ignored. This includes measures that can be taken if certain problematic substances have not been widely tested. CETA would make this principle null and void.

Kempen's main point of criticism lies in the "provisional" implementation of CETA without the approval of national parliaments. The provisional implementation only requires the approval of the European Council.

Deutschland Karlsruhe Menschenkette gegen CETA
Protesters were lining up outside the court building in KarlsruheImage: picture-alliance/dpa/U. Deck

Protest has good chances of success

Roman Huber feels it is important to stress that he is by no means an opponent of globalization or free trade in general. "We just want people to respect the rights of our citizens." He sees a trend towards resistance to the agreement. "This is a sign of broad discontent that exists in the population. This was not an online petition that they simply needed to click." To him, the numbers say it all. "125,000 people who support the lawsuit – that is a remarkable sign."

Deutschland Köln Protest gegen TTIP & CETA & TISA
In Germany the main focus of protests is on TTIPImage: picture-alliance/R. Goldmann

The number of plaintiffs alone will not necessarily impress the judges of the Constitutional Court. The lawsuit could still be a success for another reason: EU states are not represented in the management body of CETA, known as the "joint committee." But according to a Constitutional Court decision on the Lisbon Treaty, this requirement must be fulfilled. So this would mean that if the judges were consistent, they would have to prohibit the German government's approval of the CETA agreement in the European Council on October 18.