Negotiations for an EU-Canada strategic partnership agreement
Delivered in Plenary - 10 December 2013
Canada is a model liberal Western democracy and one of our closest friends. It is exactly the kind of country with which the EU should be forming free trade agreements, not least because of its booming economy, but almost uniquely amongst G7 and wealthier nations it avoided falling victim to the banking crisis which then engulfed the rest of the Western nations. So therefore I am delighted by the ongoing progress with the CETA free trade agreement which was recently initialled by Mr Barroso and Prime Minister Harper of Canada and should be finally signed without major problems next year.
Regrettably, however, the strategic partnership agreement (SPA) which we voted on today has been the victim of greater controversy politically. Canada is the world’s second largest country by size, with deep ties both to my country, being in the Commonwealth, and to France, and with many other European countries on account of the large diaspora communities that live there. It wields enormous political prestige and influence on the world stage as one of the world’s fairest and most democratic of countries.
It is therefore bizarre that the whole of the SPA was at risk on account of an inappropriate human rights clause which not only sought to suspend the SPA in the event of major human rights abuses in Canada, but also sought to bring down the free trade agreement with it.
This is nothing short of an insult to Canada, which has stronger and longer human rights records than many of our own Member States. We cannot persist with a one-size-fits-all system, which groups Canada alongside countries with grave and systemic human rights abuses, and we cannot seek to sit in judgment or assert moral superiority over such a country.
It seems that we may have reached a compromise now with the SPA, which places strong emphasis on human rights on both sides, but does not interfere with the CETA. The alternative is to have no agreement at all and that would be very much to my regret.