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NEWS: Canada lobbying EU parliamentarians on the tar sands

Ross Hornby

Ross Hornby

The Globe and Mail reports, “Canada’s ambassador to the European Union privately promised EU politicians a year ago that the (Harper) government would bring in regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands, newly released documents indicate. But Ottawa has yet to act on that commitment. Meetings between Ambassador Ross Hornby and European parliamentarians were part of a campaign to derail the EU’s proposed clean-fuel standards that would penalize the oil sands as ‘dirty fuel’.”

“In concert with the oil industry and province of Alberta, the federal government has launched an ‘engagement strategy’ aimed at burnishing the image of the oil sands in the U.S. and Europe. While Europe does not import oil sands crude, it is home to several major companies that invest in the Alberta projects, including France’s Total SA, Norway’s Statoil ASA, Britain’s BP PLC and the Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell PLC, all of whom are facing increased public criticism of their activities there.”

“The Harper government was also lobbying to prevent the European Parliament from adopting fuel standards that would single out the oil sands projects as particularly heavy emitters, according to documents obtained under Access to Information by the environmental group Climate Action Network Canada. …The European Commission is still debating whether to impose the ‘proposed clean-fuel directive’.”

“Trade Minister Peter Van Loan conceded the federal government has opposed the regulation, but rejected charges that Ottawa has injected the issue into Canada-EU free trade negotiations.”

March 25, 2010: The Council of Canadians highlights a Reuters report that, “The European Union has yielded to Canadian demands it remove possible trade barriers to polluting oil sands to avoid further damage to ties, according to sources and leaked documents. …Canadian Ambassador Ross Hornby told a top official at the European Union’s executive in a letter seen by Reuters… that draft EU standards to promote greener fuels are too unwieldy and will harm the market for its oil sands… Several sources said Canada had raised the issue frequently during trade talks with the EU. …Hornby confirmed he had written such a letter, which was released by the Commission under freedom of information laws.”

July 21: We further highlight that the Harper government had linked the European Fuel Quality Directive to CETA talks given an Inter Press Service report that, “Ross Hornby, Canada’s ambassador in Brussels, wrote to Karl Falkenberg, head of the European Commission’s environment department, in January. Hornby’s letter… objected to a proposal that fuels derived from tar sands would be treated differently to those using conventional crude oil. (The letter said that) would constitute a ‘barrier’ to trade…”

November 4: The Council of Canadians and the Indigenous Environmental Network launch a legal opinion by Steven Shrybman titled, Potential Impacts of the Proposed Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement on the Pace and Character of Oil Sands Development. Shrybman writes, “It is not a stretch to say the Canadian government sees the CETA negotiations as a tool for constraining the ability of the EU to pass regulations or other domestic measures that would differentiate between products based on their carbon content. The proposed EU Fuel Quality Directive, which would categorize crude derived from the tar sands differently than conventional oil, has already suffered from heavy Canadian and Alberta government lobbying. The Canadian government has proven its willingness to contest similar measures in the United States using international trade and investment rules. CETA also risks granting EU energy companies added investment protections and tools to challenge future Canadian or provincial efforts to regulate tar sands production more effectively.”

January 21, 2011: The Council of Canadians was in Strasbourg, France to brief Members of the European Parliament on our concerns about CETA. At a meeting twenty-one representatives of the European Parliament’s trade committee, an uninvited Canadian embassy official turned up to challenge our comments related to the tar sands and Europe’s fuel quality directive. She denied that Canada had raised this issue in relation to CETA. We easily countered her assertions (by referring to the Reuters and IPS news reports noted above) and were strongly supported by an MEP who raised objections to Canada’s role in killing the second binding phase of the Kyoto protocol at the United Nations climate negotiations this past December in Cancun.

February 11: Postmedia reports that, “Sealing and oilsands, two issues that have darkened Canada’s image in some sectors of European society, could affect ratification of the proposed Canada-European Union free trade agreement, suggests a report from the House of Commons parliamentary committee on trade. …The report, based on a fact-finding mission to Europe in November, recommends that the Canadian government and Parliament step up efforts to lobby the 736-seat legislature that now has veto power over EU trade agreements. …The European Parliament, which holds sessions in Brussels, Belgium and Strasbourg, France, gained veto powers over trade deals in the Lisbon Treaty that took effect in 2009.”

February 21: Reuters reports that, “Canada has threatened to scrap a trade deal with the European Union if the EU persists with plans that would block imports of Canada’s highly polluting tar sands, according to EU documents and sources. …Sources said Monday (February 21) that Canada had gone further (than just raising concerns), threatening to void the free trade deal, which is expected to be agreed later this year. Canadian officials denied they have threatened to scrap the trade deal, but said they are concerned about how the oil sands oil will be treated under the EU’s fuel directive. ‘Canada and the European Union are working to resolve the issue outside of the negotiations towards a free trade deal,’ International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan said in a statement to Reuters.”

February 23: The Toronto Sun/ Reuters reports that, “Europe’s trade and climate chiefs are preparing to take a stand against imports of oil from Canada’s polluting tarsands, despite fears the move might wreck a multi-billion dollar trade deal, according to EU sources and documents. …Last year the European Union appeared to back down on the issue, putting commerce ahead of a strategy to curb greenhouse gases from transport fuels by 6 percent this decade. But EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard have spent months checking the robustness of methodology to measure the carbon footprint of fuels and are close to taking a stand on those that are the most carbon-intensive, according to internal EU documents and sources. …One EU official said that backing down on tarsands would ‘undermine the credibility’ of Hedegaard’s team and politically would be ‘a highly dangerous route for the commissioner to proceed down.’ …Canadian officials have questioned the robustness of the EU methodology. …EU sources say they expect (Canada) to mount a (WTO challenge (against them) on tarsands…”

February 24: Postmedia News reports that, “A battle over foreign environmental policies that target Alberta’s oilsands has spilled over into a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso, according to newly released EU documents. The briefing notes prepared by EU officials for the negotiations reveal Canadian officials at the highest levels were pressuring their European counterparts to turn away from stringent environmental policies in order to protect the oilsands industry. One document, prepared in the context of Harper’s meeting with Barroso at a Canada-EU summit in May 2010, noted that Natural Resources Canada officials had requested and obtained a meeting to discuss concerns about a proposed European fuel-quality directive that would restrict imports of fuel originating from Alberta because of its environmental footprint. …Van Loan was not immediately able to answer why the issue was raised during the trade negotiations.”

This evening’s Globe and Mail article is at