The European Commission has decided the Canada-EU trade deal will proceed for ratification as a "mixed" agreement, recognizing demands from key members like Germany to vote not just in Brussels, but in each country's legislature.
The executive body for the European Union met Tuesday in Strasbourg, France, to formally propose the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) for ratification at the European Council.
"The trade agreement between the EU and Canada is our best and most progressive trade agreement and I want it to enter into force as soon as possible," President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a release. "Now it is time to deliver. The credibility of Europe's trade policy is at stake."
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The European Council, made up of government leaders from the EU's 28 member countries, is expected to meet in October, in the first of what now appears to be three stages towards the deal's ratification and coming into force.
The council makes its decisions on a consensus basis: every country needs to sign on. CETA proceeds as long as no country explicitly votes against it.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to be in Brussels for a formal signing ceremony in late October.
At a Montreal event with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard Tuesday, Trudeau said he was feeling optimistic.
"With the situations going on right now [post-Brexit vote] and the perceptions around the EU, it's going to be very important for them to demonstrate an ability to move forward on deals that are going to be good for their citizens," he said.
After the European Council gives its approval, members of the European Parliament will vote in late 2016 or early 2017.
But Tuesday's decision by the EU's executive means that a third stage will now be required for the entire deal to take hold.
"Following a decision by the council, it will be possible to provisionally apply CETA," the commission's statement said. "Its full entering into force will be subject to the conclusion by the EU, through a council decision with the consent of the European Parliament, and by all member states through the relevant national ratification procedures."
Provisional implementation possible
Voting in each state's legislature could take significantly longer than ratification by the council and parliament only.
Legal opinions advanced by the commission suggest that most of the agreement — perhaps as much as 95 per cent — falls comfortably within the European Union's jurisdiction. But outstanding legal wrangling over the EU's trade deal with Singapore has complicated Canada's ratification.
"This is an agreement that Europe needs," EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström said in a statement. "The open issue of competence for such trade agreements will be for the European Court of Justice to clarify, in the near future.
"From a strict legal standpoint, the commission considers this agreement to fall under exclusive EU competence. However, the political situation in the council is clear, and we understand the need for proposing it as a 'mixed' agreement, in order to allow for a speedy signature."
Following the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union last month, commission president Juncker wished to conclude CETA despite the uncertainty brought by the Brexit vote.
But as vigorous civil society movements in countries like Germany, France and the Netherlands rallied opposition, leaders became wary of appearing undemocratic, particularly with the EU's future in flux.
France's foreign minister, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition partner, the German Social Democrats, did not want to proceed unless it was a mixed agreement.
'Listen to voters'
Legal arguments suggest that an individual country may only have the power to hold up, or reject outright, specific parts of the deal — not the entire package.
Notwithstanding its common market philosophy, the European Union allows member states jurisdiction over some things, like transportation, which is where the legal arguments about "mixed" competency kick in.
The bulk of CETA's broad provisions — including phasing out tariffs on commodities like seafood, new market access for products like European cheese and changes to open up areas like government procurement — could come into effect before every country votes.
"Europeans at the national level will have a democratic say on this agreement, just as CETA will be debated in our own Parliament," Canada's International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement. "This decision was anticipated and will keep CETA on track.
"Our government looks forward to signing CETA with our European partners this year and to its ratification in Canada and by the EU Parliament early next year."
Freeland believes over 90 per cent of the deal could proceed provisionally. Without such assurances, businesses may be reluctant to make required investments or regulatory adjustments to prepare to take advantage of the deal
Negotiations began in 2009 but did not conclude until 2013, after which further negotiations and a legal scrub took an additional 2½ years, as finer details and additional concerns were addressed.
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"Like many Canadians, Europeans are worried about CETA's attacks on democracy," said a release from Maude Barlow, the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, who works with European groups opposed to CETA.
"After the Brexit vote, policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic would be better counselled to listen to voters, rather than pushing discredited solutions down people's throats."