Socialists pull support for EU-Canada free-trade deal

PSOE's new president Cristina Narbona speaking to reporters outside party headquarters. Photo: El Diario
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• PSOE reverses position on free-trade accord, now says it won’t vote for CETA
• Socialist ‘No’ vote or abstention on trade deal not enough to stop ratification

The new leadership of Spain’s Socialist party (PSOE) under reinstated general secretary Pedro Sánchez has indicated the party will abandon its support of the controversial EU-Canada free-trade agreement known as CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) and will most likely abstain in the balloting to ratify the accord scheduled for next week in the Congress of Deputies.

The announcement was first made by PSOE President Cristina Narbona via Twitter on Tuesday and then confirmed Wednesday by the Socialists’ new spokesperson in Congress, Margarita Robles. The decision to break ranks with the conservative governing Partido Popular (PP) and centre-right Ciudadanos party and withdraw support for the trade deal came just hours after PSOE deputies on the congressional Foreign Affairs committee adhered to a party dictate handed down by PSOE’s previous caretaker administration to vote in favor of sending the accord to the floor of Congress for full debate and ratification.

In Narbona’s Tweet, the PSOE president said “international agreements must be redefined in order not to concentrate more power in large corporations at the expense of rights” and said flatly of the CETA deal that “we are not going to support it”. Robles would only confirm on Wednesday that the PSOE would not be voting in favor of the free-trade deal, but did not provide details on how Socialist deputies would vote. Sources cited in Spanish media reports said the party’s representatives in Congress would most likely abstain, rather than make a 180-degree reversal and vote against the trade deal.

A final decision on which way the PSOE will cast its votes will be decided on Monday in the party leadership’s Permanent Committee meeting. Regardless of whether PSOE deputies abstain or vote against CETA, the controversial trade deal can still be ratified by Spain with the votes of the PP, Ciudadanos, and the regional centre-right Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV), Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català (PDeCAT, formerly Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya) and Coalición Canaria (CC).

Approved in February by the European Parliament, the CETA deal has been criticized for establishing an unprecedented Investment Court System (ICS) that would operate separately from domestic laws in Europe and allow private corporations to sue European national, regional and local governments outside the legal systems of EU member countries. Labour unions in Spain and across Europe are opposed to the accord, saying it undermines workers’ rights.

Last month, Spain’s Congress rejected a motion by the Unidos Podemos (United We Can) parliamentary group to suspend debate on the CETA free-trade deal and send the matter to Spain’s Tribunal Constitucional (Constitutional Court) for review.

► Read More in Spanish at Público, El Diario and El Mundo …

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