Belgium’s Wallonia region will block the federal government from signing the Canada-EU free trade accord, after a vote in the regional assembly on Friday (14 October) against approving the agreement.
“I will not give powers to the federal government and Belgium will not sign Ceta [the agreement] on 18 October,” Wallonian prime minister Paul Magnette said on Friday.
But, Magnette said the vote should not be seen as being against trade or Canada.
He said that the so-called joint interpretative declaration, that clarifies the deal, does not give enough guarantees, as it does not have the same legal weight as the accord itself.
The French-speaking region has concerns about the deal’s social and environmental impact, which could be addressed in a legally binding declaration.
The assembly voted 46 votes in favour, 16 against and one abstention.
Belgium’s federal government needs the approval of all the country’s six assemblies to sign the deal.
Wallonia’s stalling is a diplomatic blow to the EU and its trade policy, as talks with US on a free trade deal also grind to a halt.
It also raises questions about future trade talks with the UK, as it exits the bloc.
EU trade ministers are due to gather in Luxembourg next Tuesday to approve the Canada deal, so it can be signed with prime minister Justin Trudeau in Brussels on 27 October.
Magnette on Friday urged the Belgian government to renegotiate the interpretative text, saying four or five EU member states are reluctant about the deal.
“We need to return to the negotiating table,” he said. “We are less isolated than people think,” he added.
Magnette is expected to travel to Paris later on Friday to discuss the issue with French president Francois Hollande.
“I am worried about the future of Europe, why add another crisis?,” AFP quoted Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders, who still hopes to approve the deal, at Tuesday’s talks with EU ministers.
The EU Commission on Friday did not want to comment on the vote in Wallonia.
“The process has begun, it is underway, we are following the debate in member states,” a spokesman said.
The Slovak presidency of the EU said later on Friday that it is not for the presidency to comment on the internal legislative process in Belgium.
“We have full confidence that in the end, Belgium will be on board, able to support the package at the trade ministers meeting next Tuesday. The Council meeting is set to take place as planned,” they said in a statement.
“We are convinced that the overall deal is good and balanced,” it added.
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Eszter Zalan is a regular contributor to EU Observer
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