EU ministers are clearing up the final points of contention in the CETA free trade agreement with Canada. TTIP talks with the US, however, seem to have broken down for good. Barbara Wesel reports from Bratislava.
One might say that German Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel was almost passionate: "CETA puts people up front, and not just the economic success of a few."
The treaty could in fact become the standard for other trade agreements. It is the first treaty to create reasonable rules for globalization, thus the German politician said, it could serve as an example of how global trade can be shaped.
Casting doubt aside
At dinner Thursday, European ministers and their Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland agreed to remove all doubt from the treaty's final text. Both sides want to nail down sticking points - such as securing workers' rights, guarantees for the independence of arbitration courts and ensuring that there is no pressure to privatize public services - in a legally binding supplemental statement.
With the statement, they seek to dispel the doubts expressed by various social democratic parties in the EU, such as in Belgian Wallonia and in Austria. "Now [Austrian Chancellor Christian] Kern will have to see how he can get himself out of this one," joked the country's economic minister, Reinhold Mitterlehner, in Bratislava.
Mitterlehner is a member of the Austrian People's Party, the chancellor's conservative coalition partner. Sigmar Gabriel, who had to make positive assurances to his own Social Democratic Party (SPD), is now coming out strongly in support of the treaty.
The timetable is set
A number of hurdles still have to be cleared before the treaty can go into effect. Trade ministers hope to formally adopt the CETA on October 18, and it is to be signed by all member states at the EU-Canada summit at the end of the month. After that it will have to be ratified by 28 national parliaments, a process that can take time.
Nonetheless, those portions of the agreement that fall under European purview could go into effect as early as the beginning of next year. That is when the European Parliament intends to vote on the treaty.
The chairman of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade, Bernd Lange of Germany, believes there is a solid majority in favor of the agreement, saying there was a "good treaty on the horizon." Lange said the next step will be a dialogue with society at large, as well as with national parliaments, in order to discuss the details of the agreement.
Above all, tariff rules and actual trade provisions could go into effect temporarily. Agreements on the courts of arbitration, intellectual property and several more items will be contingent upon approval by national parliaments. In general, Lange, a Social Democrat, says that CETA is a progressive, cooperative agreement. In Bratislava, much talk was made of the fact that the Canadians had been very patient with problems within the EU over the course of the seven-year-long negotiations.
TTIP is (almost) dead
"CETA and TTIP are two fundamentally different pairs of shoes," said Lange, who is the official rapporteur for the TTIP. Negotiations with the US will bring no results in the foreseeable future, he added, as Washington has refused to make many concessions to the EU.
In any case, one will have to wait until the US elections are over: "If Trump wins, TTIP will die instantly; if Clinton wins, one will have to wait and see what her stance is toward Europe," said the EU lawmaker.
Lange is for putting negotiations on the "night stand," while others want it "put on ice." Austria, France and a number of smaller countries are calling for them to be scrapped altogether. "TTIP has become a metaphor for the hegemony of big corporations," said Austrian Economics Minister Mitterlehner.
He thinks that it would be wrong to simply give the agreement a new name: "Rebranding is not enough. We have to redefine the rules of the game, the goals and the transparency."
However, a large number of member states are in agreement with the European Commission: They want to continue negotiations in order to at least hang on to the few successes that talks have brought thus far. One thing, however, is certain: An agreement will not be reached with the Obama administration. Heads of government will discuss the life and death of TTIP at the EU summit in mid-October. Negotiations are thought to be as good as dead, yet so far, no one seems willing to issue a death certificate.