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08 December 2016

First negative vote on CETA shows it’s no plain sailing through EU parliament

Worker's rights and inequality cited as reasons CETA ‘far from progressive’ in committee vote

Simon McKeagney, Editor

Today the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) voted against CETA in the first of several votes that could spell trouble for the final ratification of the agreement.

The vote called on the International Trade Committee (INTA) to withhold its consent to the conclusion of CETA, due to concerns over employment and worker's rights. In particular MEPs cast doubt on whether CETA would benefit working conditions, reduce inequality or create quality jobs. 

In the opinion voted on this morning, MEPs pointed out that ‘evidence shows that the agreement would contribute to widening the income gap between unskilled and skilled workers thus increasing inequalities and social tensions.’

The opinion also noted that the levels of protection afforded to investors is not envisaged for protecting labour interests and rights. The rejection passed by 27 to 24 votes. Commenting after the vote, Greens/EFA Member of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee Jean Lambert said:

“The arguments presented in favour of CETA simply don’t add up. On working conditions, the deal is highly suspect. The Investor Court System would create additional rights for investors, without providing anything meaningful in response for workers, increasing the imbalance in rights and protections. It would also risk widening inequality. There are serious concerns that the deal could contribute towards the growth in income inequality, something that is already a huge problem in the EU. We are all for the creation of quality jobs, but the evidence that this deal would deliver on this is paper-thin.”

“We expect the International Trade committee to take these concerns into account when they make their final recommendations to Parliament.”

The INTA committee has so far strongly resisted any input from other committees as the file makes it way through the institution. As we reported in November, commonplace procedures allowing different committees to debate and vote on CETA were rejected in order to steamroll the text through parliament with as little debate as possible. 

Greens have been heavily critical of the way in which procedure has been handled with regard to CETA. INTA member and Greens/EFA trade spokesperson Yannick Jadot:

"Today’s decision highlights again the many reasons why we have joined NGOs and civil society in opposing CETA. But it also highlights the problem with the way these decisions are made. Why is such a devastating opinion only being allowed to be heard at this late stage in the day?

“The Parliament will have a final opportunity next year to show it is willing to put the common good first and refuse to give consent to CETA.”

A vote due in the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) on January 9-12, spearheaded by Bart Staes MEP, is likely to raise new concerns, including the protection of EU pesticides and chemicals regulation, which have been long-opposed by Canada. While these opinions are welcome, the lack of full involvement from all relevant committees has exposed the ad-hoc nature by which the only directly-elected institution has oversight over agreements like CETA. 

In a policy paper adopted by the Green/EFA Group in November, they called for a series of sweeping changes to procedures for negotiating and ratifying trade deals. The paper, which can be found here, demands that the European Parliament is given the right to co-legislate the mandate of future trade deals and calls for great participation and transparency in the overall process by MEPs and civil society.

The final European Parliament vote on CETA will take place on February 1-2.

Read: Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) Opinion on CETA

Read: Trade Policy making in the EU - what Greens demand

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