Not-So-Free Trade

Europe's Wallonia Debacle

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Walloon resistance to the CETA trade deal highlights the deterioration of relations within the European Union due to regional disputes.

  • Facts


    • The signing ceremony for CETA was held on Sunday. The Belgian province of Wallonia had blocked the deal for weeks, but Belgian leaders on Thursday reached a deal that allowed it to be signed.
    • The E.U.’s 27 member states must still approve CETA and some diplomats seem skeptical that a final deal will actually be reached.
    • Wallonia is a largely socialist region of 3.6 million people, and politicians there wanted greater protection for the environment, labor market and farmers.
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CETA protesters brandish a banner featuring Wallonian Minister-President Paul Magnette. Photo: DPA

Nicolas Buissart has made a part-time job out of his hometown’s uglier side. Two or three times a week he takes tourists on an “urban safari” through Charleroi, a medium-size industrial town in the Walloon region of Belgium, showing them the industrial wasteland areas and alleyways.

The largest city in Wallonia, less than 40 miles south of Belgium’s capital, Brussels, is a depressing place.

As a child, Mr. Buissart lived through Charleroi’s decline, when it went from a bastion of the steel and coal industry to a wasteland with an unemployment rate of over 20 percent. “In the 1980s we used to listen to the evening news where they often reported one factory after the other being closed down,” recalls the 36-year-old artist.

The job losses continue. In September, the U.S. tractor manufacturer Caterpillar announced it was closing its plant and taking 2,200 jobs with it.

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