Greek members of the European Parliament spoke to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) on Monday about the positive and negative aspects of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada, analysing its possible perils and predicted benefits.
Despite Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saying that the revisions to CETA allowed the Greek government to approve it, SYRIZA MEP Stelios Kouloglou was largely opposed whereas main opposition New Democracy’s George Kyrtsos and Maria Spyraki were in favour.
According to Kouloglou, the big problem with CETA was the introduction of private courts. “Until now, a disagreement between a private company and a state was tried in a national court. The CETA agreement provides that the case will be tried by a private court, where the judges will be big lawyers from law firms that often have the companies filing the suits as clients,” he pointed out.
In some cases, according to Kouloglou, the companies were more powerful than countries, pointing out that AT&A bought Time Warner for roughly a third of Greece’s public debt.
“If a company can give so much money, we are talking about immense power. Let us suppose that there is a dispute between Monsanto and Greece…to return to the Walloons. Because they reacted to this statute, they were given a promise that they could make changes to the statute for private courts. This did not happen.”
Asked why the objections were strongest in Wallonia, Kouloglou said that those living around Brussels followed the developments closely and this had given rise to a strong movement against CETA and TTIP that had forced the political parties to oppose the agreements. It was now hard for them to change stance without serious concessions from the other side.
“Private courts are, however, a basic parameter of CETA and TTIP because, as we said, CETA is the little brother of TTIP and the ‘Trojan Horse’ for voting in the last, which is frozen for the time being,” he said.
Kouloglou noted that the Party of European Socialists (PES) in the European Parliament were in favour of CETA, led chiefly by the Germans who dominated the group. He said the German socialdemocrats had waited until after the German elections to voice their support for the agreement, which was unpopular with many German voters but favoured
“CETA will help the competitiveness of the large companies, such Audi, VW, BMW, but will destroy small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as local products and local culture, which are not protected at all.”
Kyrtsos said that CETA would reduce the cost of goods and services since it reduced or eliminated tariffs for 9,000 products and services. “Its signature is considered necessary in order to send a message that the EU can still remain a leading player on the world stage even after Brexit,” he said.
If major deals such as CETA got stuck at the level of the Wallonia region parliament in Belgium, Kyrtsos noted, the EU’s negotiating power would be drastically reduced and it would lag even further behind the U.S. and China.
“The forces of protectionism and introversion have become stronger in the EU after Brexit and the CETA agreement is the first big test of its cohesion and effectiveness,” he added.
ND MEP Maria Spyraki noted that people’s concerns should be addressed and equal opportunities in trade protected, ensuring continued protection for PDO products and product quality. At the same time, she added, Europe must not allow populism to deprive EU member-states of the potential opened up by a major trade agreement. It was the responsibility of Europe’s political leadership to undertake this initiative and not pass the decision onto member-states.
“We have a responsibility to explain to member-state citizens the opportunities that the agreements with Canada and the United States create. Especially for Greece, the benefits from lifting barriers and harmonising trade rules with the other side of the Atlantic are very significant,” she said.
Citing figures from the World Trade Institute, Spyraki said that the TTIP was expected to boost Greece’s GDP by 0.4 pct and Greek exports to the U.S. by 13 pct.