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09 October 2014
CETA: Canadian deal weakened key EU regulation
This week our worst fears came true on our long-held view that Canada was to blame for torpedoing the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD).
When the measure was first adopted in 2009, one of the key aims was to regulate the most polluting fuels used in Europe. Companies would have had to report the carbon intensity of their fuels, thereby discouraging those with a high carbon value. In 2012, the EU executive agreed that toxic tar sands would be given a 20 percent higher carbon value than convention oil, but intensive oil industry lobbying meant that Member States failed to approve these proposals.
While the implementation plans announced by the Commission on Tuesday will still oblige fuel suppliers to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of transport fuels by 6% by 2020, this crucial element has been stripped from the directive. Companies will now not have to account for the higher emissions from tar sands. With transport fuels set to become the biggest source of carbon emissions after 2020, failure to include this is a huge missed opportunity. And now we can safely say why it was ditched.
It was clear from the start that the FQD stood in the way of Canada’s ability to sell us highly polluting tar sand crude oil. Canada protested the directive accordingly, but at the same time, negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) opened. It is not hard to figure out what happened next.
The FQD effectively vanished into obscurity for close to 5 years. And the CETA negotiations proceeded. Only now, just a few weeks after the announcement of a “concluded” CETA deal, does the revised FQD reappear. Coincidence? Of course not. The Commission would have us believe that CETA had nothing to do with such internal regulatory decisions like the FQD. How laughable this now is.
The altar of free trade
Instead of defending a vital piece of environmental regulation, it is clear that the Commission “sacrificed it on the altar of free trade” to borrow a phrase from the new Commission President Jean Claude Juncker. This is exactly the type of trade-off that gives rise to the genuine concerns surrounding agreements like CETA and TTIP amongst EU citizens. Perhaps the most shocking feature of this scandal is that the European Commission itself orchestrated the backroom bargaining. It is now impossible for them to claim that our international trade policy does not negatively impact our ability to regulate for the public good in the EU. Are we also to trust them when they will claim the same for TTIP in the months ahead?
I was surprised how little Canada seemed to gain from concluding CETA in comparison to the ‘wins’ the EU managed to obtain in areas like procurement. The additional beef and pork quotas were at the express request of Harper himself, aimed at satisfying the strong lobbies in his constituency rather than benefiting the whole country. Not enough to explain Canada’s subdued acceptance of the EU’s more offensive interests. But now it is clear that the big winner from CETA was not Europe, but the Canadian tar sands industry. European citizens and the environment will again pay the price.
The lesson of course is not to let this happen again. What democratically made decisions have we as Europeans made that now run the risk of being killed off or weakened as a result of ongoing TTIP negotiations? REACH chemical regulations? Our food safety standards? Our online privacy and data rights? Even just recently Trade Commissioner De Gucht said that import approvals for GMOs were ‘needed for TTIP progress.’
This Saturday, protestors will take to the streets to rally against these corporate trade deals. Over 300 demonstrations are planned in hundreds of cities and towns across EU Member States. It is time our trade policy started to work for, not against people. Until then, I'll be joining fellow citizens on the streets too.