Jul 12, 2011

CUPE in Europe to raise concerns about CETA

CUPE is part of a delegation in Europe this week to oppose the Canada-European Union trade deal called CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). Negotiators for Canada and the European Union are holding a critical eighth round of negotiations for a sweeping new trade deal that increases health care costs for Canadians, threatens Canada’s public water, gives extensive powers to corporations, and limits local democratic control for municipal governments. CUPE staffers Blair Redlin and Carol Ferguson are in Brussels to lobby Members of the European Parliament (MEPs); meet with unions and civil society groups; and monitor the negotiations.

Here’s a personal account of the first day of work in Brussels by CUPE senior officer Carol Ferguson and CUPE trade policy expert Blair Redlin.

CUPE's CETA journal

Hello from Brussels! Here we are in the home of the European Union, the very city where negotiating teams from Canada and the EU are hammering out who will get what in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement or CETA, the deal people are calling the trade deal beyond NAFTA.

We are here because of the CETA negotiations, but although we aren’t at the negotiating table, we are monitoring what happens. There must be several hundred officials here in Brussels this week for the eighth round of CETA negotiations. Some of them shared our flight over from Ottawa. (Yes, I did try to eavesdrop.)

Canada’s large federal team is led by chief negotiator Steve Verheul. Then, there are trade teams from every province and territory, here at the EU’s insistence, as most of what is on the table in this deal falls under provincial jurisdiction. (The EU doesn’t want to sign onto a deal only to find out later that provinces aren’t on board.) The EU has their negotiating team. And of course, all the teams have brought along their technical experts.  

Over the next few days, these negotiators will be signing off on new economic rules that could have a lasting impact on Canadians and their communities. Will Canadians have to pay $2.8 billion more for their prescription drugs every year? Will we put an end to the capacity of municipalities to spend community tax dollars on local goods and services? Will the federal government put drinking water in a trade agreement for the first time? Will the provinces put public utilities, like Hydro-Quebec, Ontario Power Generation, NB Power and Manitoba Hydro on the table for privatization? Will we give greater access to our fisheries to European fleets?

There’s a lot at stake in CETA and the purpose of our delegation is to meet with unions, parliamentarians, and NGOs in Brussels to share information and seek support in opposing CETA.

This morning, we started with a walking tour of Brussels organized by Corporate Observatory Europe, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the UK Tar Sands Network and the Council of Canadians designed to expose the power of corporate lobbying power in the EU. The tour took us to the hotspots of current active lobbying in Brussels around the Canadian tar sands starting with the Canadian Mission to the EU, continuing on to the UK Embassy, the offices of British Petroleum, the European Commission and European Parliament. Did you know that there are 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels, 20 lobbyists for every Member of the European Parliament? 

The Canadian government is aggressively lobbying around CETA here in Brussels. European environmental activists are concerned that the Harper government’s linking of CETA negotiations to internal political debates within the EU around the Fuel Quality Directive may help weaken EU environmental policies addressing climate change. Big business is also out in force here in Brussels and the Canada-Europe Round Table (CERT) was meeting with EU parliamentarians today.

This afternoon, CUPE’s Blair Redlin joined Amelie Nguyen of Reseau Quebecois sur l'integration continental (RQIC) and Stuart Trew of the Council of Canadians at a meeting with French civil society groups in Paris. Organized by Attac-France and Aitec, the meeting was well attended with 13 participants from a variety of French unions, environmental groups, members of the Seattle to Brussels Network and other groups.

After hearing presentations on various aspects of CETA, the meeting moved into an energetic discussion of strategy planning. Ideas were exchanged on deepening cooperation between European, Canadian and Quebecois opponents of CETA, as well as strategies for lobbying members of both the French and European Parliaments.

Meanwhile here in Brussels, Larry Brown (NUPGE), Scott Sinclair (CCPA), and I met with staff of the European Federation of Public Service Unions, a federation of more than 210 independent unions representing more than eight million workers. EPSU shares a commitment to quality public services and has been an important ally in raising concerns about CETA within the European Union.

We hear rumours that the provinces have not submitted their offers on services that were expected this round. If this is true, it could mean another delay for negotiations.   

Tomorrow, we’re off for a full day at the European Parliament.

Learn more about the dangers of CETA:

COPE 491