How can tiny Wallonia block the vast EU-Canada trade deal?
Brussels (AFP) - Belgium's seven-parliament political system is in the spotlight after the French-speaking region of Wallonia voted to block a huge EU trade deal with Canada despite seven years of negotiation.
Here is a summary of the complexities:
- FEDERAL BELGIUM -
Once a unified monarchy with strong nationwide institutions, Belgium has slowly developed since the 1970s into a federalised entity. This happened under the intense pressure of separatist-minded Flemish, fed up with the perceived dominance of francophones since the creation of modern Belgium in 1830.
The new set-up saw the creation of regions and linguistic communities, each with their own parliament and government that have grown increasingly powerful after waves of ambitious constitutional reforms.
The regional governments now have executive power over major policies.
- POWERFUL REGIONS -
French-speaking Wallonia, Dutch-speaking Flanders and the capital city of Brussels make up Belgium's three "regions". Over the years, decision-making over major policy areas -- such as farming, environment, and economic development -- has gradually devolved to these regions.
The so-called linguistic communities (Francophone, Flemish-language and Germanophone) control education, culture and public broadcasting.
- DEVOLUTION -
Each of the regions and communities has an elected parliament and government.
This leaves Belgium with a total of seven elected assemblies: the geographic regions of Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels; the three linguistic communities; as well as a parliament and senate at the federal level.
- DEAL RATIFICATION -
When Belgium signs an international agreement, even one negotiated by the EU like CETA, each of the seven elected bodies needs to approve the deal at certain stages.
In general, this ratification can take place after the signature -- and provisional implementation -- of the deal. The process can take years.
For CETA, the regional parliaments have been involved for months, but after a long consideration, lawmakers in Wallonia and the French linguistic community voted to reject the deal, on the grounds that it did not provide enough assurances on protecting the environment or farming.
- NON WALLONIA, NON TRUDEAU -
The EU needs the approval of the bloc's 28 member states to agree to the signature of the CETA deal.
To do that, Belgium needs the green-light of its seven parliaments.
On Thursday, Belgium was forced to block the approval for signature at a meeting of EU trade ministers in Luxembourg and the issue now goes to a discussion by EU leaders over breakfast at a summit on Friday.
But without the approval of Wallonia and its outspoken head of government Paul Magnette, the leaders too will be blocked and a visit by Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to sign CETA, set for October 27, could be indefinitely delayed .