Belgian region rejects 'threats' on Canada-EU deal
The head of the small Belgian region of Wallonia on Monday said he still refused to sign off on a massive EU-Canada free trade deal despite intense international pressure to back down.
"Wallonia is under all sorts of pressure and in these last hours, even disguised threats," Paul Magnette, socialist head of the administration in the French-speaking region, told local MPs.
"But we are steadfast. We are telling the European Commission that we cannot accept this document if they do not make an effort in our direction," he said, referring to the EU's executive arm that handles trade talks for the bloc.
The parliament in the French-speaking part of southern Belgium voted on Friday to block the deal, known as CETA -- meaning that Belgium itself cannot sign up to the pact.
The shock vote threatened to derail the deal's long-delayed signing by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Brussels on October 27 and complicate trade talks with the US and a non-EU Britain which will use the deal as a template.
EU and Walloon negotiators held intense talks over the weekend to agree on an document that would satisfy the concerns of the French-speaking Belgians.
"If unfortunately we are not heard, if some think that will give in, then we will have to confirm our 'no' and Belgium will not be able to sign," Magnette said.
EU trade ministers are set to meet in Luxembourg on Tuesday to approve the deal's signature on October 27 with Trudeau, but Magnette said Belgium was still not in a position to do so.
"More time is needed... We will need at least a few extra days," Magnette said.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said he hoped for a breakthrough at an EU leaders summit on Thursday if there was no luck on Tuesday.
But increasingly nervous EU officials said the stonewalling by Wallonia could prove to be a huge blemish to Europe.
"If we don't manage to conclude the Canada deal, the EU may as well close up shop," a senior EU official said on condition of anonymity.
Spain meanwhile said the troubled trade deal held extra importance as it was the only model for a future pact between the bloc and post-Brexit Britain.
Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said the "only solution" for Britain was "the Canadian one".
© 2016 AFP