OTTAWA — The European Union leadership presented a united front on their trade agreement with Canada on Friday in an attempt to dampen concerns that some European countries might still scuttle the deal.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy stood shoulder to shoulder with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Parliament Hill, saying that all 28 EU countries support the deal.
Barroso and Van Rompuy joined Harper to declare in writing that their five tough years of negotiations were done and to push for a speedy final ratification of the deal in Europe and among Canada’s 13 provinces and territories.
They did so in face of German opposition that resurfaced in the country’s parliament again on Thursday, after first rearing its head last month over the language of an investor-state dispute mechanism contained in a leaked text of the deal.
The Canadian government also released the full text of the agreement on Friday, following years of criticism that the negotiations were too secretive.
The Canadian Press has also learned there is persistent worry that two unhappy eastern European countries could still derail the deal.
Canada requires visas for travellers from Romania and Bulgaria and some diplomats fear one or both of those countries could block ratification of the agreement if the requirement is not lifted.
Barroso said that a joint declaration that he, Van Rompuy and Harper signed just minutes earlier had the full backing of every member of the EU.
“The declaration that we signed was fully backed by all of the member states of European Union, including Germany,” Barroso said.
“Until now, all the official communications we’ve received from Germany were absolutely in favour of this agreement. If would be very strange if it were to be otherwise because, if I may add, the country that is going to benefit the most from this agreement is, indeed, Germany.”
Harper appeared pleased by the show of support and played down the continuing opposition.
“Does that mean that in the normal process I don’t expect that somebody will say change this here or give me a bit more money there?” he said.
“I expect this kind of thing will happen, but in the end we have an agreement … we have all and those we represent committed to it and we will honour those commitments.”
Almost a year ago, Harper flew to Brussels with great fanfare for a signing ceremony on a deal in principle that would face another 10 months of hard negotiating on irritants that had seemed settled.
Last October, Barroso heaped praise on Harper as tough negotiator, in an attempt to give him political cover against opponents. On Friday, he called Canadians negotiators “extremely able and strong and determined” eliciting laughter from the Canadian delegation seated before him.
But that was not enough to mute concern from both supporters and detractors.
Liberal trade critic Chrystia Freeland said her party supports a free-trade deal with Europe, but she’s concerned by the discontent coming from some countries on the continent, especially in recent days.
“We have another photo-op without the goods being delivered,” she said.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair sided with the concerns coming out of Germany on the investor-state dispute resolution mechanism.
Like some in Germany, Mulcair said the provisions will deprive Canada of sovereignty when it comes to regulating some sectors.
“Foreign corporations will get to make determinations as to the rules regarding health,” he said.
The left-leaning Council of Canadians also denounced the deal. The group’s trade campaigner Scott Harris said Friday’s event showed that the two sides are “going through the motions” in the face of European opposition.
“This summit is nothing more than a face-saving effort for a lame-duck commission and a prime minister with his eyes on the 2015 federal election.”
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, one of the early backers of the Canada-EU trade talks, said a vocal minority in the European Parliament will oppose ratification but the majority will approve the deal.
Charest said opposition in Romania and Bulgaria over the visa won’t be enough to derail the final ratification.
Canada imposed the visa rule on the two countries and the Czech Republic to stop an influx of bogus refugee claimants among ethnic Roma applicants, although the Czech visa requirement ended last year.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has expressed concern over human smuggling and organized criminal gangs, but his office has nothing new to add on whether the visas to Romania and Bulgaria will be removed.