EU leader publicly twists Canada’s arm on climate change, bank levies

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The president of the European Commission engaged in some public arm-twisting of the Harper government Wednesday in advance of this summer’s G8 and G20 summits in Canada.

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The president of the European Commission engaged in some public arm-twisting of the Harper government Wednesday in advance of this summer’s G8 and G20 summits in Canada.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the former Portuguese prime minister who now figures in the European Union’s new political council, says climate-change talks and a global financial-services tax need to be on the table when world leaders meet in central Ontario in June.

In an hour-long meeting with Canadian media before he sat down privately with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Barroso took careful aim at two of the Conservative government’s steadfast foreign-policy positions.

“I think the G8 and G20 can provide important political stimulus to global climate-change negotiations,” said Barroso, highlighting an issue that has barely registered on the radar for the back-to-back summits to be hosted by Canada.

Last December’s Copenhagen conference on climate change turned out “below our expectations,” said Barroso, but he thinks a basis for progress has been made.

“What we want is everybody to move, so I’m not going to finger-point Canada,” said Barroso, before indirectly critiquing the Harper government’s long-standing position.

“What we don’t like to see, frankly speaking, is that someone does not move because the others, they don’t move. If everybody says it, no one will move at the end: We are only trying to find the lowest common denominator, so we forget about our global responsibilities.”

The Conservatives have been steadfast in saying no global agreement can be achieved without all the major emitters onside, and that Canada can only bring in emissions targets in lock-step with the United States.

At a post-meeting news conference with Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, Harper’s list of issues to be discussed at the summits ended with “and climate change.”

Rompuy, the former Belgian prime minister, was only slightly more forthcoming.

“We touched base on the climate issue,” Rompuy said of their more than two hours of talks.

“Here, the European Union remains very committed and ambitious, but also realistic on what to expect from the international negotiations this year.”

Barroso made a similar argument on the subject of a global levy on financial transactions. The idea of an international bank tax has been floated by the International Monetary Fund, prompting a swift rejection from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

“Certainly we hope this matter is going to be discussed also in Canada. It’s an important issue,” Barroso told reporters after endorsing the levy idea.

“You cannot avoid the issue. Our position is there should be a contribution from the financial sector….”

He added that it “makes more sense to address these issues globally than isolated, because if not we don’t have a level playing field.”

Harper was direct in shooting down any Canadian participation in such a levy when he was asked about it after the meeting.

He argued that Canada’s tougher regulatory system kept banks from growing like some of their international competitors during the boom years.

“Obviously we believe it would be unfair to then doubly hit them, not just with a tougher regulation system but with levies as well.”

Since Canadian taxpayers did not directly bail out banks, said Harper, “we believe there is no justification for levies on banks and financial institutions.”

Harper said he expects the issue will be discussed “at some length” in Toronto. “Canada’s position has plenty of support but it will be an interesting discussion.”

The European Parliament passed a resolution Wednesday that further fans the flames. While the resolution is filled with glowing diplomatic language concerning the EU’s close links with Canada, it also categorically states that: “the issue of introducing a bank levy or a transaction tax at global level will be one of the priorities at the next G20 summit in Toronto.”

It also takes a poke at Alberta’s oil sands, expressing “its concern about the impact of the extraction of oil sand on the global environment due to the high level of CO2 emissions during its production process and the threat it poses for local biodiversity and the rights and health of indigenous peoples.”

And for good measure, the resolution notes that when it comes to the EU-Canada free-trade negotiations that are at least a year from completion, “no thorough impact assessment has been carried out of the social, environmental and economic effects of such a comprehensive economic trade agreement.”

That statement played into the hands of environmentalists, who complained Wednesday that a leaked draft of the trade deal reads like the “anti-Kyoto,” because it protects oil company investments but is weak on sustainable development.

Harper flew on to the Netherlands later Wednesday, where he will visit a war cemetery Thursday to mark the country’s liberation from Nazi occupation in the Second World War.

The prime minister will also visit Zagreb, becoming the first Canadian prime minister to visit Croatia, which hopes to join the European Union.

Harper will close out the trip in Berlin on Saturday on the 65th anniversary of Germany’s surrender ending the Second World War. He will also meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the G8 and G20 summits.