Picture from the Stop TTIP coalition, taken at a CETA Vote Action in Strasbourg on 15 February 2017

Controversial EU Canada trade deal, which threatens environmental protections, is tested by Europe’s highest court

The EU Canada trade deal, which puts the interests of companies over citizens, is being tested today at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The trade deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), has been criticized heavily by environmental and other civil society groups for giving companies the right to sue Member States for implementing laws that limit their profits.

The 28 judge court will hear arguments that the trade deal will undermine the powers of the courts of EU Member States.

This relates to the Investment Court System (ICS), contained in the deal, which would allow Canadian companies to sue sovereign European governments if their actions impact on profitability or even expectations of profit.

To allow this, special courts would be created outside of a country’s normal legal system.

Campaigners say this would have a massive impact on social and environmental protections as Member States would stop bringing forward new regulations or laws for fear they could be sued.

Attracta Ui Bhroin, Vice-President at the European Environmental Bureau, who is observing proceedings said:

“The court signaled the exceptional public importance of this hearing by sitting in full court which is very rare. As an observer I represented EEB’s long term concerns on the investment arbitration system in CETA at the hearing. We are very concerned that even the threat of being sued will dull Government ambition in policy and regulations necessary to address climate change and environmental protections and instead will cause a ‘Regulatory chill’.

“The EEB only supports trade deals that secure better social and environmental standards. CETA threatens public services, undermines efforts to make agriculture more sustainable and hampers much-needed policy-making to protect the environment. “

Lithuania, France, Spain, Estonia, Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, Austria, the Slovak Republic, Finland, Sweden, the EU Council and the EU Commission today pleaded in favor of the Investment Court System (ICS).

Belgium took a neutral position and Slovenia pleaded against. Greece didn’t speak at the hearing but it is understood that they submitted a written plea against the ICS as well.

The CETA hearing is taking place because in 2016 Belgium’s Wallonia region insisted on getting the opinion of the court on whether or not CETA would overrule the autonomy of the EU legal order and the powers of the courts of the Member States. Millions of European citizens signed a petition to stop CETA.

The legal group ClientEarth have pointed out that CETA will sideline both the EU court and the courts in the EU’s member states while also violating the Charter of Fundamental Rights and undoing the independence of the judiciary.