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Ceta and Strategic Partnership Agreement EU-Canada in the global geopolitical context: an answer to the crisis of liberal values and International Cooperation

Ceta and Strategic Partnership Agreement EU-Canada in the global geopolitical context: an answer to the crisis of liberal values and International Cooperation

A key of CETA that takes into account political and economic problems on a global scale: the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) between the EU and Canada - with its chapters on human rights, sustainable development, international security - is a new generation agreement which aims to support multilateralism and democracy.


Laura Borzi* 


CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), the free trade agreement between the EU and Canada, has been described by the European Commission as a milestone in European trade policy and the most ambitious agreement ever concluded by Brussels[1]. The agreement is also an essential component of a type of “new generation” agreements through which the EU intends to shape and influence the global economy, drawing inspiration from its values, therefore it is in line with the approach of the document Trade for all (2015) [2] and also with the Global Strategy of 2016[3], which intended to draw the guidelines of the European foreign and security policy. The prosperity, is determined by a strong internal market and an open international economic system. A strong Europe able to take on a leading role needs choices based on a long-term vision, mixing interests and values: peace, security, prosperity, democracy and a world order based on international law.


This premise allows us to leave out for a moment both the particular period that Europe is experiencing, and the impasse in which the Italian ratification at CETA is currently present, together with the technical considerations analyzed elsewhere, to offer instead a key that inserts the agreement within much wider political and economic problems at regional and global level.




The implications are related, on the one hand, to the effectiveness of European trade policy, on the other hand to the challenges that Canada and the EU are called to face at a time when those liberal values, the basis of the post-World War II transatlantic alliance and which led the creation of a complex institutional architecture with the UN at its center, have undergone a regressive process and what this may mean for the future of international cooperation.

In the background, the change of global leadership with the reflux of American power and its disengagement from multilateralism. This trend, which has been going on for some time, has recently been accentuated with the progressive disengagement from the US towards international cooperation on various fronts, from trade (in the context of the WTO with the blocking of the dispute resolution mechanism to customs rights), the environment (withdrawal from the Paris agreement), diplomacy (withdrawal from the agreement with Iran), the collective defense and security mechanism (NATO), urging the Allies to make more investments for the their defense.

The complexity of the global geopolitical framework involves further challenges, but certainly also opportunities, in a scenario in which from the beginning of the new millennium, two closely related phenomena are witnessed: the reduction of the weight and influence of the West and the discreet failure of multilateralism on a global scale.

In this context, the EU and Canada, which have always benefited from international cooperation, find themselves responding to challenges on several levels: the internal crisis that crosses Europe, with the deep divisions among the states, the increase in so-called populisms on the internal level, which undermines democracy at its roots and, finally, the return of geopolitics to the world level. It is therefore necessary for Canada and the EU to coordinate in a common front against these globally active trends and to put in place, in the meantime, a new strategic repositioning.

The reasons that delay the Italian ratification of the agreement are the result of fears generated by complex economic and political perspectives, related to the dynamics of a world that is by now irremediably interdependent. However, the dissipation of the dream of a globalization that brings uniform benefits has not eliminated the polymorphic phenomenon of interdependence. If the system goes through a phase of profound instability, the answer that should be given is that of a reasonable and controlled opening to trades. The importance of CETA ratification also for our country goes beyond the meaning of the technical improvement of a free trade agreement, based on the belief that progress is possible through increasing levels of harmonious cooperation between the political communities.



On the other hand, it represents a further opportunity for Canada and the EU to deepen conceptually and formally co-ordinate cooperation and co-operation in the 2016 Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) [4], a tool based on indivisible values such as human rights, international security and effective multilateralism, protection environment and sustainable development. The 2016 agreement is an important response because it is able to represent a barrier to the drift of multilateralism and liberal values on a global scale, by two actors benefiting from international cooperation at a time when the other transatlantic partner escapes, for various reasons, to this modus operandi.


As is known, the CETA is a mixed agreement under the Treaty of Lisbon (2007). The Treaty by changing the structure of the EU's external action has expanded the scope of commercial policy by making it an instrument of diplomatic intervention.

With a soft power that has lost part of its appeal and a hard power all in progress, trade is a privileged sector of power for Brussels. It is not just the value and the economic weight of the EU, among the protagonists together with the US and China of international trade, but the possibility, which it has used, to exploit the regulatory power, or its capacity to produce and ongoing on a planetary scale a set of rules that govern the behavior of other actors, from the weakest to the most powerful, through a mechanism of lasting interdependence. For our purposes we could say that CETA should find its place in the system that Canada and the EU intended to build. More clearly, what we want to contest is not the legitimate debate on an international treaty, due to some very technical aspects, which in any case protects, if only for its own existence, the products of our country more than it can protect the regulatory void, which characterized the previous situation.

What we observe critically here is that the focus on CETA has ended up overshadowing the value of the much more important Strategic Partnership Agreement, this true cornerstone for the future of Canada-EU relations. The agreement reinforces a relation already historically and culturally deep between the parties detailing the common values, but above all updating the relationship around the fundamental issues that the states as individuals can not deal with, first of all the irreplaceable coordination in the field of security: from the fight against terrorism to nuclear proliferation. Then energy issues, sustainable development, environment and cooperation in research and innovation. For this aim, mechanisms for political dialogue and consultation, a continuous cooperation, structured and active at various level, from the Mixed Ministerial Committee to the Joint Cooperation Committee[5] are accentuated. These are the tools that allow us to carry out synergies and make a common front in a world in rapid and unpredictable change. In this sense and significantly, the SPA will increase the coordination within some important international benchmarks: the UN, NATO, OSCE, OECD[6].

Sharing fundamental values and common goals consolidates the position of the EU and Canada as global players and increases the footprint they can leave on the global governance system.

Therefore, adherence to the principles of multilateralism remains intact, despite the awareness of the almost paralysis of the dynamics of international cooperation that has been witnessed over the last twenty years. On both sides, it is believed that only a system based on international law and cooperation can effectively guarantee peace and prosperity.

The Brussels-Ottawa front is also adequate to fill the void that, in a not very distant future, the relative decline of the American leadership could lead to a negative worldwide impact even within the same transatlantic relationship in a scenario still characterized by rapid change of the nature of the challenges.

The proactive assumption of responsibility on the world scenario by the EU and Canada, as designed by the SPA, can concretely result as a brake on the decline of the West with what this entails in terms of culture and values. Fostering the conditions that may impact on a global rebalancing as a space for trade and cooperation is not a little ambitious project. The SPA clearly indicates the direction in which to move, a signal that the two partners have understood that in a complex and interconnected world only joint actions and partnerships can provide adequate answers.

As for Europe, the answer that could give to the great challenges, that is the return of the "sovereign state", does not seem to be constructive. Decades of "Europeanization", between serious crises but also leaps forward, have now, perhaps irreversibly, changed what ideologically and normatively the states were over half a century ago. We need to get out from the Europe's spleen, thinking a reasonable economic and political openness that is halfway between the boundless globalization and the illusions of souverainism that would bring us back a freedom as useless as it is without substance.


*Analyst of the Geopolitics of the Arctic

[1]   European Commission Press Release, European Commission proposes signature and conclusion of EU-Canada trade deal, 5 July 2016




[5]   Title VI, art.26 - 27,

[6]   United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.