Where is Wallonia? And why is it threatening Brexit deal?

Wallonian government’s stance not surprising: Analyst

Wallonia has repeatedly held astonishing power over Brexit negotiations since the EU referendum vote in 2016. The President of Wallonia warned he “will not hesitate” to request the Belgian parliament vote down any Brexit deal as he previously orchestrated with the EU’s agreement with Canada. Express.co.uk has compiled a guide to explain where Wallonia is and why it holds so much power when it comes to the prospect of a Brexit deal.

Where is Wallonia?

Wallonia is one of three regions of Belgium and covers the southern portion of the country.

The parliament of Wallonia is the French-speaking region of Belgium.

The region was prosperous during the industrial revolution, but since World War II its economy declined massively.

The region now suffers from high unemployment and has a significantly lower GDP per capita than Flanders.

The economic inequalities and linguistic divide between the two regions are major sources of political conflicts in Belgium and a major factor in Flemish separatism.

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Former Belgian Prime Minister and now President of Wallonia Elio Di Rupo lashed out at Boris Johnson amid ongoing Brexit negotiations between the UK leader and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

On Wednesday, Mr Di Rupo tweeted: “We’ve been living according to Boris Johnson’s moods.

“His attitude does not allow us to see clearly in the future of relations between the EU and the United Kingdom.

“For my Region, Wallonia, the #Brexit No deal could represent up to 5,000 jobs lost. The United Kingdom is Wallonia’s 7th supplier.

“I will not hesitate to ask my parliament to use its right of veto, as was the case for the #CETA if future trade agreements with the United Kingdom cross the red lines set by my Government.

“I also want to highlight the need to find an agreement in the interest of the European regions which will be the most proportionately affected. I am thinking in particular of my sister region, Flanders.”

The EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement was nearly derailed in 2016 by Wallonia.

Shortly before the scheduled signature of CETA on October 27, 2016, Belgium announced it was unable to sign the treaty.

The country requires assent from all regional governments to sign an agreement, but the French Community, Wallonia and Brussels were opposed to signing the agreement.

In April that year, the Walloon Parliament had already adopted a resolution in opposition to CETA and in October Walloon Minister-President Paul Magnette led the intra-Belgian opposition shortly before the planned signature.

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It is unclear exactly how much power Wallonia will wield when it comes to the EU 27 voting in support of any deal that may be agreed by Mr Johnson and EU negotiators.

Only once an agreement is struck will EU lawyers decide whether any parts of it come under national jurisdiction meaning national and regional parliaments would get to vote on it.

National and some regional parliaments are only likely to have a definitive say if the UK/EU agreement is mixed and directly affects those regions.

Brussels correspondent Jack Parrock tweeted: “Former Belgian PM who now is the President of the region of Wallonia with a serious threat to any #Brexit trade deal.

“Trade watchers will remember they massively held up the EU-Canada trade deal a few years back.

“These hurdles are why a deal would need to be done urgently.”

Boris Johnson travelled to Brussels on Wednesday in a bid to agree a post-Brexit trade deal with Mrs von der Leyen.

The pair met for dinner during which they aimed to break the Brexit deadlock, but the dinner concluded without an agreement.

Mrs von der Leyen said the two sides were still “far apart”, while Downing Street said, “very large gaps remain”.

Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen have reportedly agreed that a deal must be agreed by Sunday, December 13, in order to be ratified before the transition period comes to an end.

Currently, the EU and UK remain in disagreement over three key areas: fishing rights, the level-playing field and governance.

Before heading to the EU, Mr Johnson said the EU was insisting on terms “no prime minister could accept” in relation to access to UK fishing waters and retaliatory measures if the UK diverged from EU standards.

Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen said a “firm decision” about the talks should be taken by Sunday.

The UK’s chief negotiator Lord David Frost and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier are due to continue talks in Brussels in the coming days.

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