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Commission welcomes Namur Declaration, labelling it a “constructive initiative”

The European Commission has welcomed the Namur Declaration by Walloon Minister-President Paul Magnette and a number of university professors as a “constructive initiative that contributes to the ongoing debates on trade.” “The document sent to the Commission is a good example of the scope [of the discussion] that is desired,” Commission Trade spokesman Daniel Rosario said on 6 December.

The declaration signed a day earlier lists a number of “propositions” that according to the signatories “should become the standard in every negotiation of trade and economic treaties in which the EU and its Member States are stakeholders.” The list includes a demand that the system under which FTAs are provisionally applied pending their ratification by national parliaments should be scrapped.

“The ‘provisional application’ of agreements should not be favoured, so that parliaments keep their full powers in the assent procedure of mixed agreements,” reads the declaration.

The call came over a month after a standoff over the approval of the EU-Canada free trade agreement (CETA) triggered by the Walloon region, which in a last-minute attempt pushed for extra safeguards to protect its economic and political interests. The 10-day CETA crisis sparked a debate across the EU on the need for changes in the way EU trade policy is carried out. A first debate among member states on possible improvements took place at the November Trade Council. And the European Parliament has launched a process of reflection on the future of EU trade policy.

Referring to the ongoing debate, Rosario said it should have an inclusive format to allow for interaction between European Parliament, national parliaments, stakeholders and civil society. “This discussion should extend beyond the constitutional framework,” he added.

The declaration demands also the EU-US negotiations be terminated, arguing that the EU “is not in a position today to negotiate a balanced agreement with the United States, given the asymmetry between the partners, especially in terms of the degree of completion of their respective domestic markets and the unresolved extraterritorial issues of US law.”

After emphasising that the declaration “includes good ideas that the Commission has worked on and showed results,” including transparency, Rosario refused to clarify if the EU Executive agrees with all its points, including those on TTIP and provisional application.

The list of other red lines spelled out in the declaration includes inter alia the “full” exclusion of public services from the scope of FTAs and a ban on the use of the negative list method for defining the scope of activities open for liberalisation.

Surprisingly the idea to include the investor to state dispute settlement provisions in future FTAs has not been rejected by the signatories, including Magnette, a staunch opponent of this mechanism. The way the investor protection system is designed in CETA was heavily criticised by Magnette and a large number of civil society organisations, bringing the agreement to the verge of collapse in late October.

By Joanna Sopinska