For mainly internal policy reasons (state savings, the possible heritage of the present Belgian Prime Minister by a Walloon politician…, etc.) the internal Belgian conditions have not been met – at least for Friday, 21.10.2016, 12.21 h) – that Belgium can sign the Canadian-EU trade agreement CETA. So, a small part of the EU population, namely less than one percent, has until now blocked successfully a breaking EU trade agreement. This goes in one hand with the rising number of protectionist measures, as counted by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), in all parts of the world, and Plays in favour of those populists in the whole EU who are against Integration and the EU and in favour of an exaggerated subsidiarity principle, by means of regional votes for upper competences, by referendum etc. How to avoid the possible consequence – and one of those m u s t be seized – on future trade and other agreements in the external field of the European Union?
The EU makes itself ridiculous, and from now on (and this is a very nice view) the EU has to calculate with the fact that one region or a country can indeed block, or blackmail?, the rest of the EU. This in a time when the Canadian-EU trade agreement CETA will be needed urgently, also as an example for other bilateral agreements. And this with Canada, which is the most similar partner to the EU overseas, sharing fully European values, always understanding the EU, and not with e.g. Pakistan, China or other countries who are also likely one day for a trade agreement, but do not share European values, like democracy, human rights, our parliamentary system etc.
Belgium should and must remain a federal state; this has to be underlined. Federalism is an excellent means to defuse many tensions immanent in a state. But federalism can also be exaggerated (and the Germans have a certain experience with that). An exaggeration is that Belgium which has normally the sole competence in external relations negotiations needs an approval by each of the four regional parliaments. This even in the case when the EU, to which the external trade competence had been delegated has negotiated for seven years a complicated trade agreement.
It can clearly be doubted that every Walloon who now thunders against CETA has even read the text. It can be estimated that the Walloons profit now of a system which has foreseen all situations but this one – a clear „beautiful-weather system“. But sometimes it rains also, and then the EU and the Member States need umbrellas.
So the changes for a likewise situation have to be inserted at a place where a certain balance is necessary. This means clearly: The EU Council should change as fast as possible its unanimous vote in this kind of trade agreements into a qualified majority vote, at least.
A qualified majority would mean that in most of the cases the criteria for any vote would remain. But it would ease the possible pressure on any Member State „from below“ (and the EU has also a lot of experience herewith). As the EU has mended its potholes often after similar „incidents“, the time is now good for this.
The EU is in a very crucial phase for its common foreign and security policy: The refugee quotas, the Brexit, the Dutch referendum on the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, the EU-USA trade agreement TTIP, the discussion about the Russia sanctions (which however is not yet dividing the EU decisively), etc., but now also CETA – these are all open issues, among many others, where the EU reached in very short time a clear division and not the necessary unity. It is easy: If the EU wants to have a common foreign, in particularly foreign trade policy (and experience shows that this was up to now an excellent way which never had to be discussed), a transition into a qualified majority vote will be indispensable. Otherwise, the tradition phrase about the EU „Economically a giant, politically a dwarf“ must be changed into „Politically a dwarf, economically a dwarf“. Nobody in the EU can accept this, not even the staunchest Walloon. For the Single Market, the European Single Act from 1986 has brought a qualified majority which was good, now it is the external dimension of this Single Market which is overdue.
Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal – . http://www.eufaj.eu