EU trade deal on brink: Brussels chaos as MEPs plot to BLOCK controversial agreement

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The European Commission has already secured an investment agreement with China, but the deal has yet to be passed by the European Parliament. This next stage could prove difficult for Brussels, as swathes of MEPs could refuse to ratify the agreement in protest of Beijing’s human rights abuses.

Parliamentarians are considering whether it would be ethical to back such a deal while Beijing is ramping up crackdowns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

On Wednesday over 50 pro-democracy activists were arrested in Hong Kong, while measures continue to be taken against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang.

Outspoken Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt has warned the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment will not be ratified by the European Parliament.

He wrote on Twitter: “Arrests again show that China is not becoming more open & democratic as a result of international agreements.

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“EP [European Parliament] will never ratify the China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment without commitments & proof that the human rights of Hong Kongers, Uyghurs & Tibetans improve.”

Similarly, Bernd Lange, the chair of Parliament’s trade committee from the Socialists & Democrats group, also denounced the recent actions in Hong Kong.

He said in a Tweet: “Trade does not take place in a vacuum – these actions mark a violation of the spirit of the #EU-#China investment deal sustainability commitments.

“This is clearly not a basis for constructive cooperation.”

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Raphaël Glucksmann, also from the S&D group, tweeted: “HK democracy dies before our eyes.

“And the priority of our dear European leaders is to sell us their investment deal with Beijing … How can [they] be so out of touch with the times?”

Unease about China’s human rights abuses appears to be apparent across the Parliament’s five major political groups, particularly among the Socialists, Greens and liberals.

The European Commission is urging MEPs to ratify the agreement as they state the investment deal is not “the appropriate instrument” to use as leverage on human rights concerns.

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Some lawmakers are broadly supportive of the deal, as they highlight the merits of the agreement.

Iuliu Winkler, a vice chair of the trade committee from the European People’s Party, said: “The deal contains some of the most ambitious provisions China has ever agreed to, particularly on market access and level playing field.”

He suggested Brussels could use the agreement as leverage to ensure China improves its approach to human rights.

He said: “By having a binding bilateral framework, we will be able, through strong implementation, to keep China to its word on the commitments included in the agreement.”

The deal has still got a way to go before it appears before the European Parliament.

It first needs to go through a lengthy “legal scrubbing” process, where the Commission’s lawyers review and correct the text.

The agreement must then be translated into all the languages of the EU, before the two sides officially sign it.

The agreement then needs to be ratified by the European Parliament, but not national legislatures.

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