OTTAWA - European Union leaders said Friday their major trade agreement with Canada has the backing of all 28 EU countries as they firmly dismissed concerns that some European countries might scuttle the deal.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy gave those unequivocal assurances as they bookended Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a joint Parliament Hill press conference to finalize the closing of five tough years of negotiations.
The short Canada-EU summit is to celebrate the end of the free-trade talks, but there are still some potential obstacles ahead. The federal government also released the full text of the agreement, following years of criticism that the negotiations were too secretive.
German opposition to the deal resurfaced in the country's parliament again on Thursday, after it expressed concern last month that it could not support an investor state dispute mechanism.
The Canadian Press has learned there is also 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."
Van Rompuy reread the joint declaration and brandished the piece of paper it was written on, saying: "This declaration that we just signed had the backing of all the 28 member states."
And he said he wasn't interested in entering into "polemics" with anyone on the matter.
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, one of the early backers of the Canada-EU trade talks, said opposition in Romania and Bulgaria over the visa won't be enough to derail the final ratification of the deal.
"Among the 28 member states of the European Union, some of them will have specific issues with Canada and they'll raise that flag," he said. "That will not be enough to stop this deal from going through."
He said that Canada "may choose" to address the issue.
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.
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