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Macron may ignore the French Parliament if CETA is rejected

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Euractiv | 26 March 2024

Macron may ignore the French Parliament if CETA is rejected

By Hugo Struna

With the French Senate rejecting the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), and the National Assembly possibly doing the same, just ahead of the European elections, Macron’s government could ignore the parliament’s decision. However, the opposition is denouncing this as an anti-democratic move.

Following the rejection of CETA on Thursday 21 March, Les Écologistes senator Yannick Jadot warned French President Emmanuel Macron in the chamber: “If the Senate vote has no impact […], and if the government does not refer the matter to the European Commission, and does not notify it, you will be responsible for building distrust in politics.”

After organising a vote on the ratification of the agreement in the Senate, the green group announced that it wanted to take it to the lower house, the National Assembly – with votes expected on 30 May, just nine days before the European elections, 6-9 June.

In 2019, when the text was first submitted to the National Assembly, CETA was narrowly approved, despite Macron’s majority. However, since the start of his second term in 2022, Macron’s party has lost a significant number of seats in the lower house.

Also, the agricultural crisis has dealt a severe blow to support for free trade agreements, which have been accused of pitting European and non-European farmers against each other. Therefore, given the current political circumstances, it seems likely that the text will be rejected by the National Assembly in May.

Up to now, only Cyprus has rejected CETA, with nine other member states yet to vote, but 17 have already given their backing.

To ratify the agreement with Canada, the European Commission needs the approval of all the member countries.

A categorical refusal by the French Parliament would postpone the possibility of ratification in the medium term, or even the continuation of the temporary agreement, which has been in force since 2017.

France might not notify Brussels

Interviewed on France Info on Monday 25 March, the head of the Renaissance list (Renew group) in the European elections, Valérie Hayer, suggested that in such a scenario, it would be up to the government “to see what position will be taken.”

In her view, CETA could continue to be applied, even if the French Parliament rejects it.

If a member state’s parliament rejects the agreement, it is up to the government to notify the European Commission. The agreement, even if temporary, must then be ‘denounced’, as noted in the minutes of the 2016 Council of the EU.

Then “the necessary steps will be taken in accordance with EU procedures,” it states.

According to the co-director of the Velben Institute, a think tank critical of free trade, the European executive could then resubmit the agreement to the European Parliament and the Council. In other words, the temporary agreement that has been in force since 2017, let alone its final ratification, would be in jeopardy.

At the European Council meeting held on the same day as the Senate vote, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she ‘took note’ of the vote and was waiting to see how France would deal with the result.

There is no obligation on member states to notify the European Commission of the situation, as demonstrated by Cyprus. After the text was rejected by its parliament, the government did not send anything to Brussels, hoping for another favourable vote.

“Denial of democracy”

Hayer’s comments caused quite a stir. Left Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Leïla Cheibi denounced her comments saying it was a “denial of democracy.”

Other parties including the Rassemblement National (RN, ID) and the right (Les Républicains/EPP), also voted overwhelmingly to reject CETA in the Senate.

The French government reacting to the rejection of CETA denounced the political opportunism of the opposition parties.

“It was a political stunt played out before our very eyes in the Senate. The Republican and Communist senators have used CETA as a political manoeuvre in the middle of a European election campaign,” said French Minister for Foreign Trade, Franck Riester, after the vote.

 source: Euractiv