Post-Brexit, Is the EU Flaunting Its Undemocratic Tendencies?


Stung by Brexit, the EU bureaucrats seem intent on showing just how undemocratic they can be. Here are two examples just in the last seven days.

The Glyphosate License

On June 24, EU member states again refused (for a third time this year) to approve a renewal of the license for the weed-killer glyphosate manufactured by Monsanto and other corporations involved in GMO crop cultivation. That should have meant that the license would expire by the end of June, and Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate weed-killers would have to be withdrawn from Europe by the end of this year.
Instead, on June 29 the European Commission (EC) decided “unilaterally” to extend the glyphosate license for another 18 months. [1]

The decision “drew heavy criticism from the Greens in the European Parliament, who said the decision showed the Commission’s ‘disdain’ for the opposition by the public and EU governments to the controversial toxic herbicide.” [2] Belgian Green Member of the European Parliament Bart Staes said, “As perhaps the first EU decision after the UK referendum, it shows the [EC] executive is failing to learn the clear lesson that the EU needs to finally start listening to its citizens again.” [3]

Many were simply shocked that an unelected body of bureaucrats would cater so blatantly to the corporate sector’s last-minute lobbying.

The EC claims that, because of member nations’ indecision on the matter, its own decision about glyphosate was based on assessments made by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), prolonging the authorisation until a new scientific review is concluded before the end of 2017, but Greenpeace has called the EFSA study “a whitewash.” [4]

Lawrence Woodward, co-director of Beyond GM, has called the EC’s unilateral decision “reckless.” [5] It comes at the same time that dozens of individuals and organizations have signed an open “Letter from America,” urging European citizens, politicians and regulators to not adopt a “failing agricultural technology” and sharing examples of glyphosate and GMO repercussions across North America. [6]

CETA Ratification

At virtually the same time that the EC made this controversial decision on glyphosate, it made another that is even more undemocratic.

On June 28, a German news agency reported that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told EU leaders the Commission is planning to push through a controversial free trade agreement between Canada and the EU – known as CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – without giving national parliaments any say in it. [7] According to the German press, Juncker argued that allowing national parliaments to vote on the agreement would “paralyze the process” and raise questions about the EU’s “credibility.” Juncker claimed that CETA “would fall within the exclusive competence of the EU executive” and therefore doesn’t need to be ratified by national parliaments within the 28-nation bloc, sources in Brussels told the Germany news agency DPA. [8]

Most EU members, however, view CETA as a “mixed” agreement, meaning “that each country would have to push the deal through their parliaments.” [9]

In late June 2016, the EC’s Juncker was reported as saying that he “personally couldn’t care less” whether lawmakers get to vote on CETA. [10]

Millions of Canadians and Europeans have fought against CETA for the past six years. Like the TPP and TTIP, it is a draconian agreement that would hand multinational corporations immense power to overrule elected local governments on numerous fronts. In Canada, CETA was supposed to be voted on by every Canadian provincial and territorial government before any ratification could take place, but in September 2014 (during the reign of Stephen Harper) the CETA deal was signed without there having been any public consultation whatsoever in Canada. The 2014 announcement was also the first time people in Canada and Europe were allowed to see the official text, which had been kept secret during the years of negotiations.

Unfortunately, Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland is enthused about what the EU is doing. According to The Globe and Mail newspaper (July 3), “The British vote to exit the European Union has refocused

Europe’s attention on the need to send a message to the world that liberalized trade is the path to greater prosperity, Ms. Freeland said.” [11]

She also explained that once the European Parliament approves CETA, “a great deal of the agreement would come into force immediately, more than 90 per cent,” she said, “those portions deemed to be within the European Union’s jurisdiction, those go into force right away.” [12]

Freeland told The Globe and Mail that concerns about CETA’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism – which allows multinational corporations to sue governments over regulations that harm their future profits – had been addressed by a rewrite of the treaty’s investment chapter. [13] But according to Council of Canadians, those changes “actually make [the provisions] worse. The reforms enshrine extra rights for foreign investors that everyone else – including domestic investors – don’t have. They allow foreign corporations to circumvent a country’s own courts, giving them special status to challenge laws that apply equally to everyone through a [private] court system exclusively for their use.” [14]

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Europe this week for a NATO summit, and officials “say he will lobby hard for other European leaders not to stand in the way of [CETA’s] ratification.” [15]

The Pushback

Reportedly, the pushback in Europe has been immediate, with Germany and France wanting “their national parliaments to be involved” in CETA ratification. On July 5, Deutsche Welle reported that “Juncker appears to be backtracking,” and would propose at a July 5 EC meeting that CETA would require “both the approval of the European parliament and national legislatures.” [16]

The Globe and Mail reported on July 5 that Juncker’s “new recommendation…could call for applying those EU parts of the treaty while the ratification process [by national legislatures] is under way.” [17] That would mean (as Canada’s Chrystia Freeland had earlier explained) more than 90% of CETA could be approved by the EU as part of its “jurisdiction” and needing no national legislative approvals. Such a process would make a mockery of democratic rights on both sides of the Atlantic.

That appears to be what is happening.

Following the July 5 EC meeting in Strasbourg, France, the CBC reported: “Legal opinions advanced by the commission suggest that most of the agreement – perhaps as much as 95 per cent – falls comfortably with the European Union’s jurisdiction…’This is an agreement that Europe needs,’ EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement. ‘The open issue of competence for such trade agreements will be for the European Court of Justice to clarify, in the near future. From a strict legal standpoint, the commission considers this agreement to fall under exclusive EU competence. However, the political situation in the council is clear, and we understand the need for proposing it as a ‘mixed’ agreement, in order to allow for a speedy signature’.” [18]

But as nations gear up to wrangle with the EU (in the European Court of Justice) over what parts of the CETA treaty fall within their jurisdiction, and what parts “fall under exclusive EU competence,” the EC could approve 95% of CETA before elected legislatures even vote.

The Council of Canadians warns on its website (July 5): “One important concern to note, ‘The commission may recommend provisionally applying the EU-parts of the Canada deal while full ratification is pending.’ The French newspaper Le Monde has previously reported that even if CETA is deemed to be a ‘mixed’ agreement, the deal could enter into force ‘provisionally’ even before EU member state parliaments vote on it. It notes, ‘If EU ministers agreed at the signing of the CETA on its provisional application, it could come into effect the following month. Such a decision would have serious implications. Symbolically, first because it would send the message that European governments finally [have] little regard for the views of parliamentarians and thus of European citizens strongly against the agreement’.” [19]

Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow stated after the EC meeting in Strasbourg, “Like many Canadians, Europeans are worried about CETA’s attacks on democracy, its weakening of social and safety standards, its contribution to privatization and attacks on public services. After the Brexit vote, policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic would be better counseled to listen to voters, rather than pushing discredited [trade] solutions down people’s throats.” [20]

Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden has called CETA a “toxic deal” and says that the way the EC is acting “reinforces the widely held suspicion that the EU makes big decisions with harmful consequences for ordinary people with very little in the way of democratic process,” he said. “Rather than take a step back and question why there is hostility to the EU, they try to speed up this awful trade deal.” [21]

Union members, environmentalists, social activists and “fair trade” groups say CETA is just as dangerous as the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal between the EU and the U.S., which hands massive power to multinationals and is a direct threat to democracy on both sides of the Atlantic. The way the EC is handling CETA is a stark clue to what’s in store for TTIP.

[1] “European Commission Extends Glyphosate License without Real Restrictions,” Sustainable Pulse, June 29, 2016.

[2] Frederic Simon, “EU muddling on glyphosate fuelled Brexit populism,” EurActiv.com, July 1, 2016.

[3] Quoted in ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Katie Pohlman, “Neil Young: Say No to GMOs on ‘Behalf of All Living Things’,” EcoWatch, July 1, 2016.

[6] Quoted in ibid.

[7] “EU Commission Seeks to Push Through Free Trade Agreement with Canada (CETA) without Parliamentary Approval,” Deutsche Welle, June 28, 2016.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Reuters, “EU Commission to opt for simple approval for Canada deal: EU official,” June 28, 2016.

[10] “EU Commission: CETA should be approved by national parliaments,” Deutsche Welle, July 5, 2016.

[11] Robert Fife, “Despite Brexit vote, key EU powers vow to ratify CETA deal,” The Globe and Mail, July 3, 2016.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Council of Canadians, “CETA changes make investor-state provisions worse,” February 3, 2016.

[15] Fife, op cit.

[16] “EU Commission: CETA should be approved by national parliaments,” Deutsche Welle, July 5, 2016.

[17] “EC set to scrap plans to fast-track CETA deal: report,” The Globe and Mail, July 5, 2016.

[18] “Canada gets clarity on how Europe will ratify trade deal,” CBC, July 5, 2016.

[19] Council of Canadians, “CETA to be considered a ‘mixed’ agreement, now more vulnerable to defeat,” July 5, 2016.

[20] Council of Canadians, “CETA vulnerable to defeat: Council of Canadians,” July 5, 2016.

[21] Lamiat Sabin “Brexit ‘Might Not Stop Awful Ceta’,” Morning Star, July 5, 2016.

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Joyce Nelson’s sixth book, Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, can be ordered at: http://watershedsentinel.ca/banksters. She can be reached through www.joycenelson.ca.

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