Protests against trans-Atlantic trade deals dominate headlines in Belgium
In recent months, Belgians have mobilised to oppose trade agreements between the European Union (EU), the United States and Canada. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have caused uproar amongst human rights activists, trade unions and agricultural groups due to concerns that the deals give too much power to multinational corporations. On 20th September, an estimated 10,000 activists mobilised outside the EU headquarters in Brussels to call for Europe to pull out of negotiations. The protests in Brussels mimicked similar demonstrations in other EU member states. Despite frequent protests in September and October, on the 30th October EU leaders signed the CETA agreement with Canadian officials. However, given the scale of the uprising in Belgium's Wallonia region, the final agreement was amended to reflect protester's demands on farming protection. Wallonia's Socialist premier, Paul Magnette referred to the amendments in a statement:
'The amended and corrected CETA is more just than the old CETA. It offers more guarantees and it is what I will defend. With this saga, which I must say made some noise, everybody in Europe knows the Walloon parliament exists.'
Belgium continues to walk a fine line between allowing space for freedom of expression and guarding against incitement of racial hatred. Political parties in both the Wallonie and Flanders regions of Belgium have used their platforms to espouse anti-immigration speech. Furthermore, members of the Flemish Parliament have been vocal in trying to implement a country-wide ban on the burkini, a type of swimwear which covers almost the whole body. Reports have also emerged of burkinis already being prohibited in some swimming pools, prompting a nationwide debate about the boundaries of freedom of expression and religious freedom.