German court gives CETA approval – but problems remain

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is set to be signed in Brussels next week following challenges from campaign groups concerned about environmental and consumer standards.

Justin Trudeau German CETA approval
Germany's highest court rejected a challenge to the free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada, clearing the way for deal to be initialled by EU trade ministers in Brussels next week. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which is due to be formally ratified at a summit of EU leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Brussels on October 27, was challenged in Germany's Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe by campaign groups who maintained the deal would reduce environmental and consumer standards, and undermine workers' rights. 

Anti-CETA groups

The groups – including rights groups Campact, foodwatch and More Democracy – argued the deal would subvert the German constitution because it did not leave room for parliamentarians to interpret the agreement or vote against it. Rejecting the argument, the court gave the German government permission to sign the agreement but said it could only do so on condition that the nation had the ability to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement later should there be a subsequent judgement against it by the Constitutional Court.

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German Economy Minister and Vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the court's ruling. "I am very pleased that we have made a first big step, because if Europe were not able to deal with Canada, this would send a difficult signal in the world," he said."For this reason I am pleased that we will make a big step towards finally giving rules to globalisation."After the deal, which has been under discussion since 2009, is ratified by the heads of state on 27 October, it will still have to be approved by national legislatures and the European Parliament, even though some of its provisions are due to come into effect immediately.

Largest EU trade deal

CETA will be the largest trade deal struck by the EU and aims to eliminate tariffs on 98 per cent of goods immediately. It will also encompass regulatory cooperation, shipping, sustainable development and access to government tenders.  Opposition to the deal remains in several countries. Austria has been concerned that ratifying the treaty could open up the possibility of new elements being added to the deal but Chancellor Christian Kern said that the German court ruling would "strongly influence" his country's position.Belgium could also scupper the deal following a vote earlier this year by the regional Wallonia parliament opposing ratification. All three regional Belgian parliaments will ultimately have to back CETA to make it a reality and a senior European diplomat told the Canadian Press that opposition by the Walloons posed the greatest obstacle to final approval.Meanwhile, Romania has said its support for CETA was dependent on Canada agreeing to a separate deal on visa-free travel between the two countries, and both Slovenia and Hungary have voiced opposition to some of the technical provisions of the agreement.Ironically, one of the major backers of CETA remains the United Kingdom despite the fact the recent referendum means the country will be leaving the EU in 2019. It is now being suggested by some that CETA could provide a blueprint for a future trade agreement Britain and the EU.

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