A small piece of good news for the EU: the agreement with Canada

Although there are 16 million people in the UK who voted to remain in the EU and would do so again even amongst them there is a feeling that things are going badly not just for the UK but for the other 27. So a piece of good news that the governments of all 27 countries and some country important regions have agreed to an ambitious new agreement on overall economic relations with Canada (although parliaments still have to ratify it). The difficulties with Wallonia shows that this kind of region (almost a country, since Belgium is little more than the shell of a country) has to be taken seriously but in this case they were preferred to negotiate rather than destroy the deal.

 

Deal is opposed by some on the left

There has been an ongoing campaign against the deal by leftwing campaigners in several countries whose comments plucking emotional rather than rational strings curiously echo those on the right who have campaigned against the EU in the UK. They claim that social and environmental standards are being sacrificed to the interests of multinationals but provide very little argument to back this up other than concerns which are legitimate but should not be deal-breaking on the tribunal intended to arbitrate on possible disputes between companies and governments. The principles in the agreement are very similar to those applying in member states and the EU itself namely that governments can introduce legislation to secure any social, environmental or other public policy goal, but such measures should not be grossly disproportional to their stated objectives, should not discriminate against companies from other countries compared to domestic companies, and should not amount to expropriation without compensation; in the latter case companies can be taken over by the state but fair compensation is required as in all EU member states and as is reasonable given that most companies include large shareholdings of pension funds insurance companies etc.

 

Dispute resolution will remain an issue

The problem is how to resolve disputes if companies or governments complain that the other party is not abiding by the above principles. In the case of many countries the courts of the country should be able to resolve disputes fairly but it seems that there is not sufficient confidence that this would always apply. So an arbitration panel has been agreed on. An important concession is that cases will be held in public not in secret. However there is probably no way of ensuring with absolute certainty that the method (or any method) of choosing judges is such as absolutely to exclude the possibility of any bias.

What is certain is that the deal and how it works out in practice will remain subject to scrutiny and debate but that if it is to be effective the sovereignty of the EU and its member states on the one hand and Canada on the other will be compromised. If the UK wishes to have as open economic relations with the EU, or indeed with Canada, it will have to compromise its sovereignty.

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