CETA ratified by the Netherlands thanks to the Labor Party Senate faction

I frowned when I noticed that Mei-Li Vos was nominated again as the party chairwoman of the Dutch Labor Party (abbreviated PvdA in Dutch) in the Senate. This nomination was approved by the members of the PvdA. The election of the senators still has to take place on 30 May, but this is a formality since the PvdA acquired sufficient seats in the provincial council elections earlier this year. Mei Li Vos will again become the chairwoman, even though she was responsible for the disgrace of approving the CETA free-trade agreement on 12 July 2022. The PvdA faction in the House of Representatives and the members of the party were opposed to approval. The Senate faction of the Dutch Green Party (GroenLinks), with which the PvdA Senate faction wants to merge, also voted against approval. The GroenLinks Senate faction criticized the PvdA during the voting, but that was all. What followed was a deafening silence with both parties about the disagreement, as if both wanted to avoid that this issue would derail the intended fusion of both parties.

I’ve written about CETA before. In principle I’m not opposed to a free-trade agreement with Canada, but it’s the Investment Court System (ICS) which I have a problem with. This a parallel court system which is only accessible to investors. This is strange, because the ordinary justice system in the EU and Canada is functioning fine. Why ICS is such a bad idea has been explained well by legal experts several years ago. Shortly before the vote in the Senate four members of the PvdA with expertise on the subject appealed to the PvdA Senate faction to vote against the treaty for similar reasons. Many others have done so as well. The Senate faction under the leadership of Mei-Li Vos ignored all those pleas and voted for approval anyway. Of course you can claim that the Senate faction has its own considerations, but if your colleagues in the House of Representatives, your members and GroenLinks are against the treaty voting in favor of it is an embarrassment. The board of the party could have pressured them by refusing a new term for the senators if they didn’t follow the party line. The members could have voted against the nomination of the senators for a new term. Both did nothing and were indifferent. This angers me and harms my support for the proposed fusion of both parties.

The senators wrote an opinion piece to explain why they would vote in favor of the treaty. The argument that improving the ties with Canada is good because of the war in Ukraine comes across as weak. There is no excuse to approve a bad treaty because of that war since there is no need to hurry. If CETA were to be dismissed, it is likely that a new treaty would be designed without ICS and other controversial elements. If criticism of the treaty is met with change there would be more support for it and a greater chance that a modified treaty would be approved. I’m not well informed enough to analyze the other arguments, but I get the impression that the PvdA senators allowed themselves to be manipulated by the pro-CETA lobby with all kinds of weak promises which aren’t legally binding. I have more confidence in all legal experts who say that CETA is no good than a PvdA senator like Ruud Koole, a political scientist, who says it’s not that bad.

On the other hand something could be said for the argument that we shouldn’t block the treaty if so many other EU member states and the European Parliament have already approved the treaty. This is the line of thought in an editorial comment in my newspaper, the Volkskrant. Let’s be honest that the ratification process for this treaty is painfully slow. The European Parliament approved CETA on 15 February 2017. CETA is now being applied provisionally, without the investment protection provided by the ICS, while some EU member states still have to ratify the treaty. It would be better if the EU would work more efficiently and approval of the European Parliament is adequate to implement a free-trade agreement. In the case of CETA we would be disappointed, but the European Parliament would mean something and would be more carefully followed by the European voters. If the PvdA senate faction had said they were unhappy with the treaty but approved because they valued the European consensus and efficient decision making, I could at least have tolerated their decision somewhat. But with such weak arguments this is impossible. All I can see now is that the PvdA Senate faction is full of naive weaklings which just follow the lobbyists and the coalition which is currently in power.

There still is a chance that CETA can be stopped because multiple EU member states, including France and Italy, still have to ratify it. If CETA were to be approved, I predict that we will regret it. The Dutch government announced on 18 October 2022 that it would withdraw from the Energy Charter Treaty because energy companies abuse it by filing huge damage claims against participating states. The politicians don’t seem to learn from past mistakes.

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