After the vote in the International Trade Committee (INTA) today, the Grand Coalition of EPP, S&D and ALDE doing the dirty work of the global corporations, CETA is now just one step away from ratification by the European Parliament.

CETA stands for Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement and it is exactly that – comprehensive. It was negotiated entirely in secret, emerged into the daylight only when people started digging around TTIP, the even bigger deal that was being negotiated – also in secret – with the USA.

Ostensibly it’s about trade but given that very few trade tariffs exist anymore, in fact it’s mostly about removing so-called ‘non-tariff barriers’, corporate-speak for ‘all those pesky obstacles to us making even more profits’. Those ‘obstacles’ are our hard-won protections from rampant corporate greed, protections such as legal standards for labour/environment/food quality and production etc etc – the list is long.

Those such as Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly (substitute member of INTA, cheerleader-in-chief for mega deals such as this) claim that all those standards are protected in CETA. Sean is deluded, enraptured or captured as are so many legislators worldwide by the expert lobbyists for the multinationals, the same lobbyists who have been pushing for these megadeals, the same lobbyists who have been entertained by the negotiators of this deal on both sides of the Atlantic to the exclusion almost entirely of society interest groups.

The truth is, as has been learned through bitter experience by nations worldwide, the hungriest and the greediest of those global corporations will find a way to either a) force through their own agenda (be that fracking, GM food, hormone-boosted beef) or b), sue national governments not just for lost investments but for any and all profits they believe would have accrued from those investments.

Again, the likes of Sean Kelly will tell us that the ISDS clause is gone (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) but again, they are wrong. The name has been changed (ICS, Investment Court System) and a few details on the set-up but this is still an entirely new legal layer, complete with its own court system. Understand this:

  • It is available ONLY to investors (they can sue but can’t be sued);
  • Eventhough the rest of us in the EU and in Canada are confined to our own multi-layered and highly-advanced legal systems, these investors can bypass all of that and go straight to this, their own system;
  • Finally, and most worrying of all, this new legal system supercedes and is more powerful than even the top courts in both the EU and Canada, the European Court of Justice and the Supreme Court respectively.

This isn’t yet a done deal (pardon the pun); it now comes before the European Parliament in mid February – get in the ear of your local MEP, your local Fine Gael MEP especially, and ask them to vote against.

Even if it gets through the European Parliament though, it must still be voted in by every individual Member State parliament – again, you know what to do. This is a battle that can and must be won.

Paul Cotter