If You Ratify The CETA Trade Deal, You'll Break The Law, Legal Expert Tells EU Member States
from the corporate-sovereignty-is-the-problem,-as-usual dept
We recently wrote about an important judgment from the EU’s top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The ruling said that that corporate sovereignty provisions included in trade deals between the EU’s member states were illegal. Significantly, the logic behind that decision suggests that any form of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) — the official name for the corporate sovereignty framework — even in trade deals involving countries outside the EU, would be forbidden too. Christina Eckes, professor of European law at the University of Amsterdam and director of the Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance, believes that the implications of the CJEU ruling are even broader.
Eckes says that in the wake of the judgment, serious doubts hang over the investment chapter in the Canada-EU trade deal, CETA, which has still not been ratified by all EU member states yet — a process that is necessary before it comes into force definitively. In fact, Belgium has explicitly asked the CJEU to rule on the legality of the Investor Court System (ICS) in CETA, which is the modified version of corporate sovereignty that supposedly addresses its flaws. As a result, a ruling on whether CETA’s investment chapter is legal is definitely on its way, and could have major implications for CETA and its ratification. However, Ecke points out that there is something called “EU loyalty”, which:
requires that Member States amongst others ‘facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives.’ In external relations, they are obliged not to undermine the EU?s external actions and ensure unity in international representation. … Furthermore, EU loyalty covers not just the present state of EU law but also ?the foreseeable future development of EU law? and should hence be interpreted as requiring certain actions or omissions in the present in order to avoid a potential future conflict between international legal obligations and EU law.
What this means in practice, Eckes suggests, is that the EU’s member states should not go ahead and ratify CETA without knowing the outcome of the CJEU deliberation on the legality of the ICS. If they were to complete ratification, and the investment chapter were then found inadmissible by the court, this would undermine the authority of the CJEU, since its ruling would be null and void. As a consequence, she says:
In the light of the foreseeable risk that CJEU declares the CETA investment chapter to be capable of undermining the autonomy of the EU legal order, Member States are required by the principle of EU loyalty to halt ratification in order to demonstrate a uniform position as one Party, together with the EU and the other Member States, on the international plane in general and vis-à-vis Canada in particular.
It’s an interesting argument, which the European Commission will doubtless do its best to ignore in the hope that it can just steamroller CETA through the ratification process before the CJEU issues its ruling. However, if, as seems likely, CETA’s investment chapter is indeed ruled illegal by the top court, this will present a rather thorny problem for the EU. Given the other challenges it faces thanks to rising populism in many EU countries, the Commission could probably do without this kind of constitutional crisis that would undermine further people’s support for the European project. That might be a good reason for putting those ratifications on hold for a while.