Education International
Education International

Education unionists deeply concerned about CETA signature

published 2 November 2016 updated 7 November 2016

Education International, together with international institutions, is worried about the effects on public services, including education, and limitations to public policy space after the signature of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

EI: High risk of increased pressure towards privatisation and commercialisation of education

After the Belgian negotiations and agreement(in French) about the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union (EU) and Canada following the refusal by the Parliament of Wallonia to authorise the federal government to sign the CETA because of its flaws and the lack of limitations and guarantees, the CETA ‘investment protection’ chapter will not be applied before national parliaments ratify the agreement. The great majority of the agreement however will be provisory applied, following the ratification of the European Parliament.

“The CETA includes significant commitments in privately funded education services,”commented Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen.

As a result, he said, Canada and the EU Member States are effectively opening up the door to foreign for-profit education providers and are extending new rights to private investors that go beyond any existing trade commitments.

At the same time there is not a single reference to any exception for public services from the scope of the agreement, only to governmental authority that is not adequate to protect public services like education, van Leeuwen observed. “Consequently, the CETA threatens to lock-in and intensify the pressure towards privatisation and commercialisation of education.”

The European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), the EI European region, invites its affiliates to express these concerns, especially the treaty’s impact on quality standards, to MEPs. The ETUCE, together with its member organisations, continues to closely monitor the discussions when the CETA shortly will be voted upon in the European Parliament.

UN human rights expert: A fundamentally flawed treaty

On 28 October, the United Nations (UN) Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order Alfred de Zayas qualified the CETA as being a “corporate-driven, fundamentally flawed treaty which should not be signed or ratified without a referendum in each country concerned.”

In his reports to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly, he has previously warned that CETA is incompatible with the rule of law, democracy and human rights, and substantiated  how and  why before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Both the CETA and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), currently being negotiated by the European Union and the USA, give undue power to corporations at the expense of national governments and human rights, he said, deploring that the mere existence of investor-state dispute settlement generates a regulatory chill.

“The danger of CETA and TTIP being signed and one day entering into force is so serious that every stakeholder, especially parliamentarians from EU Member States, should now be given the opportunity to articulate the pros and cons. The corporate-driven agenda gravely endangers labour, health and other social legislation, and there is no justification to fast-track it,” de Zayas said.

Civil society should demand referendums on the approval of the CETA or any other such mega-treaty that has been negotiated behind closed doors, he noted.

He went on to highlight that States should not sign the agreement unless their powers to regulate and legislate in the public interest are fully safeguarded and the so-called “investment protection” chapter is removed, as it “creates privileges for investors at the expense of the public.”

CLC and ETUC: More democracy needed for a fair and progressive trade agenda

Concerning the CETA specifically, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) have further condemned a lack of consultation with trade unions.

To regain the trust of European citizens and workers, and if the European Commission and the Canadian Government sincerely want this agreement to become a good and progressive standard for trade agreements, “it is time now to restart a transparent negotiating process aimed at introducing in CETA binding and enforceable provisions that can really address and resolve the concerns that ETUC and CLC have raised, including the privileged status that investors get with the Investment Court System, that stands in sharp contrast to the very mild labour standard provisions which have no enforcement mechanisms,” both organisations highlighted in a joint statement on the CETA issued on 27 October.

The ETUC and CLC asked the European Commission, the Canadian Government, and the EU Member States to open the negotiations to democratic consultation of trade unions and civil society, in order to ensure the necessary changes are introduced to address existing concerns, as a trigger for a fair and progressive agenda for trade agreements at global level.

They also condemned the pressure made on Wallonian institutions, to block more democratic and transparent negotiation.

For more information, please see the recent article Do free trade deals pose a threat to higher education?