Belgium challenges CETA in EU CourtThis article is powered by EU Food Law
Belgium is mounting a legal challenge to the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in the European Court of Justice.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said on 6 September that the federal government would refer to the court the question of whether the investment tribunals in CETA are consistent with EU law. The mechanism allows companies to contest national or EU laws that could hit company profits, such as environmental restrictions.
Reynders said that four questions would be put to the European court based on whether the tribunals had the power to rule definitively on EU law and the equal treatment of investors. The case, which follows a series of concertation meetings between six different Belgian regional and national governments, is expected to take 18 months.
The court case will not prevent “provisional application” of CETA taking effect on 21 September as announced by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in July. Reynders explained that Belgium is challenging part of the deal that cannot come into force until full application, which will only happen once Member State parliaments ratify the agreement. In Belgium ratification will require the go-ahead of the four regional parliaments, which is in no way guaranteed since the French-speaking Wallonia region already blocked CETA approval at an earlier stage.
The European Parliament’s Greens/European Free Alliance group welcomed the Belgian announcement. Green trade spokesperson, the French MEP, Yannick Jadot commented: “Arbitration courts for investors are completely undemocratic and incompatible with European standards for a fair justice system.”
Jadot pointed out: “In the European Parliament, the Greens strongly campaigned on this basis to send CETA to the Court of Justice in order to verify its compliance with EU treaties. Unfortunately, our resolution to send CETA to the court was defeated but the debate has lived beyond that. That's why we strongly welcome that there will now be an opportunity to establish without doubt that investors-to-state-dispute settlement systems are inconsistent with EU law.”
Belgian Green MEP Philippe Lamberts added: “Although it has been nine months and the court's judgment is not expected until spring 2019, we are pleased that this step has finally been taken.”
Lamberts noted: “The verdict will be decisive for all ongoing and future trade negotiations.”
He went on to warn: “But in the meantime, vigilance is needed, particularly in the coming weeks when the Council will define the Commission's mandate to negotiate with other economic powers the creation of the multilateral investment court.”
EU-Canada trade in food and drink products was worth about €3.8 billion in 2016, with total agri-food trade including primary agricultural products put at nearly €5.9 billion.