CETA Update: This is not about Britain vs the EU – but the people vs big business
What is CETA?
CETA (or the Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement) is a trade pact between the EU and Canada. Like it’s more well-known brother TTIP (the US-EU pact), CETA will give big business sweeping new legal and political powers. It will accord foreign corporations the power to sue governments in special ‘courts’ for actions which damage their profits. It also threatens to lock in lower standards, weaken regulation, and make it harder to control the big banks and prevent another crash.
So at the very least you’d expect a heated parliamentary debate on the deal. Not a bit of it, in fact parliament has never discussed CETA and, if David Cameron gets his way, it won’t discuss the deal until it’s already become law.
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By passing a parliamentary vote
A new leak seems to show that last week Britain, along with 7 other countries including Lithuania, Estonia and Cyprus, argued to bypass parliamentary votes in EU member states on the CETA deal. They want to use a little known mechanism called ‘provisional implementation’, which allows a trade agreement to become law before it has received parliamentary approval.
If Cameron gets his way, the British parliament is still likely to get a vote one day, but not before CETA has already started wreaking damage on European and Canadian society. In fact, a ‘corporate court’ case could be brought against the British government before Parliament has ratified CETA. Even if parliament rejects the deal at a later date, the corporate court will still be taking claims for another three years in the face of parliamentary opposition.
For all the talk of sovereignty in the EU referendum campaign, the debate has failed to get to the heart of the matter: that the people’s sovereignty – both in Britain and throughout Europe – is being eroded by the power of big business. And the British government, as so often, is leading the charge.
Britain is happy to use the EU when it helps big business to get the upper hand. By arguing for the ‘fastest possible’ implementation of CETA, Cameron is going beyond what is required in EU law. But British government will also fight like hell when the EU threatens the privileged interests of the City of London. Our governments have fought EU proposals – often in the courts – to place a cap on bankers’ bonuses, to stamp out food speculation, to institute a financial transactions tax, to ban short selling, to crack down on tax havens.
Fighting for people power
In or out of the EU, the British government will go on fighting for more power to its friends in the City. What we want is people power – and our first step on that road is to defeat the deeply undemocratic trade deals like CETA and TTIP.
The battle over CETA comes to a head in the last week in June – at a special EU Council which has been moved from the week of the referendum so as not to cause embarrassment to the British government. Cameron appears to be in a minority in his enthusiasm for pushing through this awful trade deal. Countries like Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Belgium all have serious problems with this deal, and especially with the democratic bypass which Cameron is arguing for. We can defeat it.
The British parliament is also fighting back. This week rebel Tory MPs have joined with Labour to try to amend the Queen’s Speech – with a motion which calls on the government to ensure that CETA’s sister agreement TTIP, excludes the National Health Service. For the first time in nearly 100 years, the government’s programme faced defeat by parliament. And TTIP was the issue chosen to do it.
The government had to accept the amendment, and a humiliation, to prevent defeat. This is a step forward. The next showdown will be the EU Council in late June. Will Cameron really maintain his position to bypass parliament in his eagerness to get the corporate power grab of CETA passed into law?
It seems incredible given everything that’s been said about sovereignty in the last few weeks. But for a long time the sovereignty the British government is committed to is not the sovereignty of the British people, but that of big business.