French opposition unites against CETA

The French parliament is supposed to ratify the Canada-EU free trade agreement (CETA) on Tuesday (23 July), but the pending ratification is generating a great deal of opposition in the country. EURACTIV France reports.

On Tuesday morning (23 July), the young climate activist Greta Thunberg is expected at the French National Assembly. Thunberg will be enthusiastically welcomed by the biggest group of the chamber, Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM).

In the afternoon, the same MPs are expected to vote on the ratification of the Canada-EU free trade agreement, which has raised eyebrows in France and made observers wonder if the two items on the daily agenda are somewhat contradictory.

“How can we be so inconsistent?” asked the First Secretary of the French Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, during an interview with the news channel CNews.

Opposition in French Parliament

The Greens, the radical left, but also the far-right were joined by 25 MPs from the right-wing party Les Républicains (LR). They fear that the free trade agreement will destabilise the beef sector.

The 25 LR MPs co-wrote an article published in the French weekly newspaper Journal du Dimanche which opposed CETA ratification. The article is entitled ‘Let’s not make food a marker of social class‘.

“Not approving CETA would be like being a vile reactionary protectionist, who is cut off from the world. However, such reasoning is both simplistic and caricatural,” the usually pro-free-trade-MPs argued in the article. That is why Macron’s party is now accusing them of being political opportunists.

“The problem is not exclusively that of CETA but in the accumulation of these free trade agreements,” argued the right-wing politicians.

Macron’s former ally also opposes CETA-ratification

On Monday (22 July), it was the former Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Nicolas Hulot, who asked MPs to “have the courage to say no” in an article that opposed the treaty.

“We have failed to provide the necessary guarantees for a climate veto, animal bonemeal, new GMOs, the safeguarding of Europe’s precautionary principle… We have failed to reform European trade policy,” said Emmanuel Macron’s former ally.

The main argument of the man who set up the environmental Nicolas Hulot foundation lies in health standards being driven to the bottom, which seems to be emerging from CETA.

CETA and lowering European standards

The EU is starting to raise the maximum residue limits authorised for certain substances and products, a regulatory harmonisation which would be at the consumer’s expense.

The European Commission has already proposed to multiply the number of authorised residues of clothianidin by 10. This neonicotinoid pesticide is banned in Europe but used on potatoes in Canada.

For the time being, the European Parliament is blocking the Commission’s proposal.

A herbicide banned in Europe, 2,4-D, is subject to a similar procedure.

The former French minister was also unhappy that Canada, the US and Brazil have criticised the EU before the WTO. They were critical of the EU for having used the precautionary principle to ban endocrine disrupters and other carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxic substances.

“When all the lobbies are already trying to break down the door, why provide them with CETA to ram it down? “summarised Nicolas Hulot.

Majority in Parliament but a divided population

Faced with this outcry, Édouard Philippe’s government is counting on its solid majority, 304 out of 577 MPs, to ratify the free trade agreement at any cost.

According to a study by the French Institute of public opinion (Ifop) conducted for the newspaper Fakir, headed by François Ruffin, MP of far-left party France Insoumise, the French population is divided on CETA.

According to the study, 50% are in favour of CETA. Of these, 40% of France Insoumise voters support the free trade agreement, while 51% of the Socialist Party support it. As for LREM voters, 72% of them support CETA.

However, when those surveyed were told that Canadians feed their animals with animal bonemeal and genetically modify their salmon, 80% of them were against such products entering France.

The sale of GMO salmon and meat from animals fed with animal bonemeal is banned in Europe.

Therefore, the questions on CETA really boil down to the norms and allowed levels of pesticides.

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