So it would seem given the shambles over the Canada-EU trade agreement, now held up, even potentially torpedoed, by objections in the Wallonian regional parliament in Belgium.
If the Walloons really destroy the Canada-EU trade deal, it would, at first glance, confirm all the darkest views of British Eurosceptics about Europe’s incapacity to make trade deals, about the awful fate of being “shackled to a corpse”.
The Canada-EU trade agreement was supposed to be a model for the hoped for bigger prize of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the United States.
I must confess a personal role in this. As co-chair of a body called the Canada-Europe Business Roundtable, I brokered a meeting in 2008 with the then European Commissioner for trade, Lord Mandelson, that kicked off the whole process.
So just as my friend and former colleague Chrystia Freeland, once Kiev correspondent for The Economist, then deputy editor of the Financial Times, and now Canada’s international trade minister, was reportedly tearful about the Walloon blockage, I feel like shedding tears myself.
I hope that this can still be sorted out. But while that does, or doesn’t, take place, let us go beyond the first glance and see what this really signifies.
What the Wallonian blockage tells us is that the pressure to “take back control” is disastrous. Either EU countries share sovereignty, or they don’t. Giving a regional parliament a veto over an EU trade deal is tantamount to the European Union packing its bags and going home. Or, to put it more brutally, committing suicide.
The whole point of the European Union is to be stronger together than we would be separately, and to do so by transferring some powers to a central body, the European Commission. We can debate which those powers should be. But once they have been transferred – as with trade, or competition law, or state aids – the power needs to stay with the Commission, come what may.
Should we give a regional assembly or council in Hamburg, Barcelona, Rome or Manchester a right of veto over the European Commission’s competition enquiry into Google, say, or its assault on Apple over its tax arrangements in Ireland?
To do so would be to abandon co-operation and all the strengths that have come with the European project.
That is what is represented by the Wallonian attempt to veto the Canada-EU trade agreement. It is the most powerful and disturbing symptom yet of the disintegration of the European Union. It is the most potent proof of how national governments’ demands to act separately, to seize back decision-making power from the Commission, is destructive.
it is a tendency that Britain has encouraged, even motivated. But given that the eventual UK-EU trade deal will have to be ratified by all 27 EU countries, Britain should be careful what it wishes for.
If Britain celebrates Wallonia’s blockage of the Canada deal, it should look forward to its own deal being blocked by a regional parliament in Slovenia, say, or in Hungary, or perhaps in Belgium too.
The point of the EU is to make the whole more than the sum of its parts. That cannot work if each of the parts, even the sub-parts, holds a veto.
European governments need to decide whether they want the EU to work, or would rather kill it.
Chair, The Wake Up Foundation
October 22nd 2016
From time to time we'll share exclusive interview clips (including never-seen-before footage), the most incisive blog posts and the most interesting dispatches from our event organisers as they take the europe debate to the furthest, biggest, smallest, weirdest, most unusual places around europe and beyond.