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French constitutional court seized on CETA – to rule within one month


More than one hundred French MPs called on the constitutional court on Wednesday (22 February 2017) in Paris to rule on the compatibility of the EU Canada agreement CETA with France’s constitutional order.

The French court has one month to decide on the case. An initial cursory legal analysis of the case indicates the chances are high the court will reject the MPs’ claims. But the French body’s inexperience with trade treaties creates uncertainty over its position.  

The group of MPs behind the move hails from the left flanks of the governing socialist party, the green party and another smaller leftist parties.

The elected representatives rely on a legal analysis provided by scholars on behalf of the NGOs Foodwatch Europe, an active anti trade agreement campaigner, and two French environmental organisations, the Institut Veblen, and the Fondation Nicolas Hulot.  

The group has brought forward four key main arguments.

The first argument is that CETA runs against the principle of equal treatment in the text’s investment chapter, as it accords special rights to investors, not granted to other groups.

The second is that it goes against the principle of independence of judges.

The third argument is that CETA also endangers “the fundamental conditions of exercise of national sovereignty” due to the investment court and the many bilateral committees and cooperation mechanisms created by the text to make the agreement work.

The fourth argument is that CETA violates the “precautionary principle”, which is enshrined in the French constitution.  

Asked whether he believed the court could endorse the MPs’ plea, Hervé Guyader, President of a lawyer’s group called the French committee for international commercial law – CFDCI – said: “Very frankly, no. This move is part of a political protest movement. But technically the request entails no legal risk”.

Indeed the approach taken by the group is to question CETA in the light of France’s very fundamental principles of law: it is thus easy to reject the MP’s pleadings and keep the answer short, Guyader explains. Had the group tabled a request based on specific clauses in CETA, the matter could have been different.  

It remains difficult to predict how the court will rule on this matter as it is the first time it is seized on an international commercial treaty.   

It is not clear when the French government will initiate the ratification process of CETA now that it has cleared the hurdle of the European Parliament and now awaits the ratification of all member states.

The MPs who have tabled the request to the constitutional court have supported the outgoing and embattled Hollande administration. The ruling socialists face the prospect of not making it into the final runoff in the upcoming presidential elections in late April. “CETA will most likely land in the hands of the next president”, Guyader reckons.