The European Union and Canada on Wednesday cast their newly-approved trade deal as a much-needed beacon for cooperation, with the EU criticizing President Donald Trump's protectionist bent as a threat to the continent's prosperity.
After about seven years of negotiations, the EU parliament approved on Wednesday a deal with Canada that will eliminate most tariffs for business between the EU's economy of half a billion people and Canada's 35 million.
Though critics claim it will mainly help large companies, proponents say it will create jobs and wealth. And, they argue, it is a sorely needed reminder of the world's capacity to cooperate at a time when political forces, even within the EU, want to bring back national barriers to migration and trade.
"This is the vote that the world was waiting today to hear — whether there will be a progressive voice in the world," said Canadian International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne during a visit to Brussels coinciding with the approval. "Canada and Europe, I am glad to say, came up to this challenge and sent a very strong signal to the world."
The future of global trade was put in doubt after Trump nixed a trade deal with Pacific countries, threatened to get tough on China and renegotiate a free trade pact with Mexico and Canada. In Europe, political parties opposed to the EU's message of shared markets and open borders for workers are doing well in the polls ahead of elections in countries like the Netherlands and France.
The EU parliament approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada by a wide margin of 408 for, 254 against with 33 abstentions, allowing for its provisional entry into force as early as April.
At the same time as the EU lawmakers were voting, the bloc's executive also took aim at Trump.
"While we do not yet know the details of the policies the Trump administration will pursue, we do know that their instincts will be protectionist more than ever," said Pierre Moscovici, the EU's economic and financial affairs chief.
"That means that the international trading and security architecture to which we owe our unprecedented peace and prosperity is also threatened as never before. So let us mobilize" Moscovici said at the University of Athens.
The belligerent mood was also palpable at the EU's legislature in Strasbourg, France.
"President Trump has given us another good reason to intensify our links with Canada — while Trump introduces tariffs, we are not only tearing them down but also setting the highest progressive standards," said Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the EU parliament's ALDE liberal group.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to address the EU legislature on Thursday.
The EU vote should close the drawn-out approval process across the 28 member states, where some governments and legislations had tried to modify or scupper the deal. The Netherlands could conceivably still hold up the deal if it demands an advisory national referendum.
Trade between the EU and Canada amounts to more than 60 billion euros ($63 billion) a year, and the EU expects the deal to boost this by 20 percent by removing almost all tariffs.
Critics say it could dilute standards for food safety or labor rights by giving more power to big corporations.
Outside the EU parliament, demonstrating activists were vocal about their worries about the deal.
"What will happen is more and more deregulation, less social protection for citizens, for small companies, for independent workers," said Maika Fernandes, who had traveled from Alicante, southern Spain. "No one will be able to compete with the multinationals. It will be a financial Europe that will favor only big multinationals."
EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom tried to assuage those concerns saying it "will not change food safety standards or any other EU requirements. Only the EU institutions can do that."
The deal was approved because three of the four major groups in the EU parliament backed it — the EPP Christian Democrats, the ECR Conservatives and the ALDE liberals. The far-right and far-left and a sizable part of the socialist S&D group opposed it.
France's hard-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon said he was shocked such a free trade could still make it at a time of high unemployment and crisis. "It is the last of these old treaties from the twentieth century, with a dose of shaggy liberalism, with a totally deregulated free trade. And many people in this parliament seem to find it remarkable, which is appalling to me," he said.
Becatoros wrote from Athens. AP video journalist Oleg Cetinic contributed from Strasbourg, France.