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#CETA: Belgian region of Wallonia holds EU-Canada trade-deal ransom

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161021ceta2Last week (14 October) the parliament of Wallonia led by Paul Magnette decided to reject the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada. Most thought this small wrinkle on the road to an agreement that has been exhaustively negotiated and explained would be resolved at this week’s European Summit, but alas no.

Wallonia is the Ohio of Europe - it had a glorious industrial and unionized past, but since its heavy industry went into decline it has gone into a deep economic slump. Like the Trump supporters of Ohio, opposition to international trade deals and a protectionist approach work well with this audience. Assurances by the Commission that trade deals can be ‘win-win’ do not convince this small region of 3.5 million.

What is startling is that the region of Wallonia has been able to hold the rest of Europe and indeed the rest of Belgium hostage. Belgium’s peculiar constitutional arrangements give the regions power to be consulted on international matters. European leaders are confident that an agreement can be reached and many have noted Begium’s ability to compromise and reach agreement.

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Paul Magnette, formerly-unknown regional president, is enjoying his day in the sun and support from those who are also opposed to CETA, including the European Parliament’s Green MEPs. He said: "Once a democratic debate is open it's hard to stop it I hope many Parliaments will analyse CETA as seriously as ours did."

In the meantime, Romanian and Bulgarian concerns over visa liberalization have been assuaged with assurances that an agreement on this matter could be agreed by the end of 2018.

The Commission and Council took the decision to give the agreement further democratic backing by putting it to each country, which is called a 'mixed agreement'. The agreement had already been accepted in the Council, with the nod from of all heads of government and by the European Parliament. In order to get to this stage, the EU had guaranteed that it would fully protect and uphold Europe's standards in areas such as food safety and workers' rights. CETA contains all the guarantees to make sure that the economic gains do not come at the expense of democracy, the environment or consumers' health and safety. The agreement is held up by trade specialists as an exemplar for further trade deals.

Lessons for the UK

The UK’s plans for life post-Brexit are, as yet, far from clear, with speculation on whether the UK will go for a hard Brexit, soft Brexit, dirty Brexit, intelligent Brexit, stupid Brexit or a sunny-side-up Brexit (which probably means no Brexit at all).

Some have speculated that a CETA type agreement might be the only option for the UK if it wants complete control of its borders, and freedom to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world.

If so, the ongoing EU-Canada deal tells a cautionary tale. The UK can anticipate a long, drawn-out negotiation, with no guarantee that the unanimity required for agreement will be achieved.

Indeed, if Canada-EU relations are complicated, UK-EU relations are several times more so, as the UK is much more reliant on trade with the EU. Theresa May has reportedly told her cabinet that if the UK takes the ‘hard’ Brexit option, it will have to increase trade with other trading partners by 37% - a tall order for any economy, and particularly difficult without any idea of what sort of relationship the UK will have with non-EU partners post-Brexit.

Prime Minister May is meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker this afternoon. In the light of today’s (21 October) development, the Commission’s hand will be further strengthened in future UK-EU negotiations.

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PESCO: Canada, Norway and the United States will be invited to participate in the project Military Mobility

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Following the requests of Canada, Norway and the United States of America to participate in the PESCO project Military Mobility, the Council adopted positive decisions authorizing the co-ordinator of this project – the Netherlands – to invite the three countries. Canada, Norway and the United States of America will be the first third states to be invited to participate in a PESCO project.

High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said: "Today, the Council approved the participation of the US, Canada and Norway in the Military Mobility PESCO project. Their expertise will contribute to the project and, with it, to improving military mobility within and beyond the EU. This is an area of shared priority and common interest in our transatlantic relations. It will make EU defence more efficient and contribute to strengthen our security."

The decisions by the Council confirm that the participation of Canada, Norway and the United States of America in the PESCO project Military Mobility meets the general conditions as established in Decision (CFSP) 2020/1639 of November 2020. Some of these conditions are political in nature; others are focused on the substantive contribution by the third state to the PESCO project, or prescribe certain legal requirements. The PESCO project Military Mobility is a strategic platform enabling the swift and seamless movement of military personnel and assets throughout the EU, whether by rail, road, air or sea.

This is important to EU security and defence, its preparedness and resilience, as well as to EU CSDP missions and operations. On 5 November 2020, the Council adopted decision (CFSP) 2020/1639 establishing the general conditions under which third states could exceptionally be invited to participate in individual PESCO projects.

EU defence cooperation: Council sets conditions for third-state participation in PESCO projects (press release 5 November 2020)
PESCO factsheet, EEASPESCO Military Mobility
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Climate diplomacy: EU, China and Canada co-convene the 5th Ministerial on Climate Action (MoCA)

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Today (23 March), Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans, China's Ecology and Environment Minister Huang Runqiu and Canada's Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson will co-convene the 5th session of the Ministerial on Climate Action (MoCA). The annual meeting, hosted this year by China, will be held virtually for the second time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MoCA is the first major ministerial meeting of the year on international climate action, and will be an important stepping stone towards the COP26 in November. Discussions will focus on how to enhance global ambition on emission reductions, while supporting co-operation and solidarity between the Parties. It is also an important forum for understanding country-specific challenges and opportunities in implementing low-carbon, resilient and sustainable policies and measures in a green recovery world. Participants will include ministers from G20 countries and other key parties in the UN climate negotiations. The EU will urge its international partners to follow its commitment to net zero emissions by mid-century and undertake significant emission cuts by 2030 to put their countries on a pathway to uphold their Paris Agreement commitments.

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Lock 'em up or let 'em out? #Coronavirus prompts wave of prisoner releases

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The rapid spread of coronavirus is piling pressure on criminal justice systems globally and has led to a flood of prisoner releases, with the United States, Canada and Germany joining Iran in releasing thousands of detainees, writes Luke Baker.

Germany’s most populous state, North-Rhine Westphalia, announced on Wednesday it would release 1,000 prisoners who are close to the end of their sentences, with sex offenders and violent inmates excluded from the list.

The aim is to free up cells so that quarantined areas can be set up for inmates that contract the disease, with many expected to do so given the tight confinement in any prison facility and the ease with which the virus spreads.

In Canada, 1,000 inmates in the state of Ontario were released last week and lawyers are working with prosecutors to free many more from provincial jails by accelerating bail hearings, among other steps.

“The concern is that a jail sentence can potentially become a death sentence for those that are there,” said Daniel Brown, a Toronto lawyer.

The US state of New Jersey plans to temporarily release around 1,000 low-risk inmates, and New York City’s Board of Corrections, an independent oversight body, has called on the mayor to release around 2,000.

Similar steps are being taken in Britain, Poland and Italy, with authorities set to closely monitor those that are released to ensure it does not lead to a surge in criminal activity or fuel social unrest at a time of national unease.

But while such measures are possible in many developed countries, and may help stem the spread of a disease that has infected more than 420,000 people and killed nearly 19,000, they pose serious challenges in other parts of the world.

In Iran, where around 190,000 people are incarcerated and the coronavirus has infected 25,000 people, the government has announced it will temporarily release 85,000 prisoners, with 10,000 of them being granted pardons.

Depending on how long the crisis lasts - and Iran is already talking about a second wave of infections - criminal justice experts say it may prove difficult to manage a large number of freed prisoners or reincarcerate them.

“The longer this goes on and the more desperate the situation becomes, it may lead to bolder decisions that lead to the release of more violent or more dangerous criminals,” said Keith Ditcham, a senior research fellow in organized crime and policing at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute.

“What do you do when things return to normality? You have a number of undesirables either in your country or traveling globally ... It puts the whole law enforcement effort back by a significant margin.”

INSIDE OR OUTSIDE?

In some countries, the fear is that inmates won’t be released. In Venezuela, human rights groups are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 among a prison population of 110,000 in conditions that are already highly unsanitary.

In Bogota, Colombia, a prison riot over coronavirus left 23 prisoners dead and scores injured, and similar unrest has struck detention facilities from Italy to Sri Lanka.

Sudan announced it was releasing more than 4,000 prisoners as a precaution against the disease.

In Brazil, some 1,400 prisoners escaped from four facilities last week ahead of a lockdown over coronavirus, with only around 600 recaptured so far, authorities said.

Even those calling for prisoners to be freed in the hope it will prevent deaths have faced problems. In Egypt, four women were detained a week ago after demonstrating for releases. They themselves were released after questioning.

“What we’re seeing is quite a seismic change in how law enforcement goes about its business in the coming months,” said RUSI’s Ditcham. “The lesser of two evils may be to release all but the most violent and dangerous criminals.”

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