Marine Le Pen launched a blistering attack on CETA today
Speakers who took to the floor denouncing the proposed CETA deal were raucously cheered and clapped by their colleagues as observers said the vote is too close to call.
Proponents for the pact made nervous speeches to the house ahead of the vote, imploring MEPs not to scupper one of the EU’s flagship projects and deliver another devastating blow to Brussels’ battered reputation.
But one German MEP was loudly booed as he defended the proposed agreement after embarking on a rambling attack against French populist leader Marine Le Pen and new US president Donald Trump.
CETA has endured a difficult birth, with its initial implementation blocked by the Belgian region of Wallonia following widespread public protests amid fears it will hand too much power to big business.
Socialist politician Anne-Marie Mineur said the pact will erode worker's rights
But German MEP Manfred Weber defended CETA
French presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen launched a blistering attack on the proposed deal today, saying it would further enrich the powerful at the expense of working families.
She raged: “The CETA agreement was carefully hidden from citizens because none of you can justify it. You voted on it in private because debating in public, that’s something you hate.
“When citizens understand all of this they will never trust you again. That is why this is a terrible agreement. It will undermine thousands of jobs in Europe.”
To loud applause she blasted: “Are you not ashamed? You’re giving away our rights to legislate and you’re robbing our citizens of the protection of their rights that they expect from their representatives.
“You’re making it possible for multinationals to attack member states so you make sure no new legislation will displease them.
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“It’s a disastrous picture and if this treaty is voted for this will show once again to citizens that you cannot defend them.
“This is why it’s important for each country to find it’s sovereignty and determine its own future and the French public will have one possibility to change this fate and that will be the presidential elections.
“It is up to nations to negotiate their agreements and not a non-elected structure which defends its own interests and not the interests of its citizens.”
Her attack followed a withering assessment of the CETA pact by Tiziana Beghin, from the Five Star Movement, who said the powers it would hand to corporations were so wide-ranging it was an effective “coup d’etat”.
Attacking what she claimed will be watering down of food standards, she said: “What has been promised is totally unrealistic. This will lay waste to European producers and manufacturers.
“We’re being carried down a very dangerous corridor with no regulations. Our citizens on the dining room table will be seriously affected.”
The Italian MEP also attacked the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system, which allows big corporations to sue member states over laws which run counter to their commercial interests.
She said: “It is a very reprehensible shameful closed justice system creating a triangle relationship between those in power. This is not the type of agreement we want.
“CETA is a technocratic, non-elected construct that will be created. It is a silent coup d’etat. It is an institutional change which is masquerading as a trade agreement.”
When citizens understand all of this they will never trust you again
Marine Le Pen
Socialist politician Anne-Marie Mineur appeared in the chamber clutching a bundle of papers containing 3.5 million signatures against CETA and wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “people before profits”.
In an emotional attack on the proposed pact she said: “We’re just putting ourselves in the hands of multinationals. We’re undermining the rule of law and putting our democracy at stake.
“CETA is a threat to all of us and I don’t understand the liberals, the EPPs (conservatives) and I certainly don’t understand the socialist and democrats who are not fighting against an agreement of this type with all the risks it entails.
“CETA is a bad agreement. It is just good for multinationals and we’re not in favour of that we’re in favour of the choice of millions. People before profit stop CETA.”
Employment committee lead Georgie Pirinski was treated with a rapturous reception as he denounced the pact, accusing it of watering down workers’ rights and helping profiteering investors.
The Bulgarian MEP roared: “The committee’s recommendation to parliament is to decline giving its consent for the conclusion of CETA.”
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And Green Bart Staes railed against the pact even whilst having to recommend voting for it on behalf of his committee, which oversees EU food standards.
He said the deal “undermines the sovereignty of member states” and added: “I have concerns about the negative list for public and social services and the undermining of standards.
The Belgian MEP was cheered as he added: “The committee did not listen to this despite the protest from millions of citizens and so as rapporteur I have to recommend it on behalf of the committee but personally I will be voting against.”
Representatives in favour of the deal sought to exploit the election of Mr Trump, who has struck a protectionist tone, to urge their fellow MEPs to vote through the deal.
Proposing the deal Latvian MEP Artis Pabriks said in the opening speech to the parliament in Strasbourg that today was “judgement day” for the European project.
He told the house: “CETA is a litmus test for our EU policies. We are standing on the cross roads. The first direction is protectionism, decline and building of walls. I don’t want this.
“The second direction is openness to the world, leadership, effective decision making and the bringing of wealth to our union.”
German MEP Manfred Weber launched a withering tirade against Ms Le Pen, raging: “Le Pen wants to make France into a huge Albania and not lead it into the future but rather cut it off.
Who can we talk to if not Canada? The big picture is we have Donald Trump. We as Europeans on this day we want to make clear that we don’t want to build walls, we want to build bridges and that’s why my group will be voting for CETA.”
And Tory MEP Syed Kamall said his group will also support the pact, describing it as “an opportunity to show the world the EU is open for business”.