A major meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of the European Union begins today in Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital city of St. John’s.
The war unfolding in Gaza between Israel and Hamas militants is expected to feature prominently in the two-day EU-Canada Summit, particularly after the two sides announced a truce-for-hostages deal on Wednesday.
European Union officials say a declaration supporting a two-state solution that would result in a sovereign Palestinian state existing alongside Israel will likely be a significant part of the summit’s joint statement, which is expected at the end of the event’s discussions.
The officials, who offered a briefing to journalists on the condition that they not be named, said the ongoing war in Ukraine is expected to be a big part of discussions, too.
Trade, climate and energy are also on the agenda, as Atlantic Canada angles to become a major supplier of hydrogen fuel to European markets, particularly Germany.
And the EU is looking to discuss a possible Canadian contribution to its unarmed mission in Armenia, where civilian monitors are keeping tabs on security along the country’s border with Azerbaijan.
This is the 19th EU-Canada Summit. The meetings between the Canadian prime minister and the top two heads of the bloc of 27 countries are held every two years. The last summit took place in 2021, in Brussels.
The European officials said it was Trudeau’s decision to hold this year’s summit in Canada’s easternmost province, though they did not say why he chose St. John’s, a city of 110,000 people.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s sealing industry has been hit hard by European bans on seal products. Officials said that may come up in trade discussions, but it was not considered a major issue.
Europe has also applauded Ottawa’s carbon pricing system, though Trudeau has been under fire in Canada for exempting home-heating oil from the carbon-pricing scheme for three years.
Some critics say the move shows carbon pricing is unaffordable for Canadians grappling with a cost-of-living crisis, while others say it could undermine the Liberal government’s efforts to limit the impact of climate change.
Officials say that carbon pricing will come up in discussions about establishing a “green alliance” between Canada and the EU, adding that both governments have been committed to expanding the global coverage of carbon pricing.
Sven Scholtysik, a research director with energy non-profit Net Zero Atlantic, says he’ll be watching for European countries to reaffirm their commitment with Canada to build a thriving hydrogen energy partnership.
He said in an interview on Wednesday that he was pleased to see the summit listed transatlantic hydrogen trade as a point of discussion.
“I would look for a good focus on Atlantic Canada presenting itself as a region, and as the closest region to Germany,” Scholtysik said.
“Atlantic Canada and the EU are not far, and we can act for each other as long-term strategic partners in the energy system transition.”
Trudeau signed a hydrogen agreement with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last year in the western Newfoundland town of Stephenville, one of several areas in Atlantic Canada where companies are vying to build massive wind-powered hydrogen and ammonia plants.
The goal for most is to ship hydrogen, in the form of ammonia, to Germany, where there is a significant market for greener forms of energy.
A project led by EverWind Fuels has already cleared the environmental assessment process in Nova Scotia and another, led by World Energy GH2, is in the final stages of that process in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Both companies are aiming to start production within the next few years.
“A lot needs to happen in order to make those timelines, and I’m happy that this discussion continues at the political level. It’s something that needs continued focus to make it realistic,” Scholtysik said.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2023.