Trans-Atlantic Ties The E.U.'s New Best Friend

It may long have been considered Europe's junior trans-Atlantic partner, but relations with Canada are now rising up the E.U.'s list of priorities as a result of huge political change in the U.S.
Canada and the E.U. see increased ties as an antidote to Donald Trump's U.S. trade policies

The European-Canadian relationship was, in the past, often the neglected part of the E.U.'s transatlantic partnerships, usually in the shadow of Europe's links with the U.S. But the change in U.S. policy under President Donald Trump gives the Canadian-European partnership new weight.

"At this critical time, I want to contribute to strengthening Canada's relationship with Europe," Canada's former foreign minister Stephane Dion said recently as he accepted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's offer to serve as Canada's ambassador to Germany and the European Union. Canada and Europe must ensure "a path to inclusive growth, and demonstrate that free trade can be combined with the rights of workers and respect for the environment," he added.

Mr. Dion handed over his office to former Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland in a cabinet reshuffle earlier this year. The Canadian-European partnership is also one of Ms. Freeland's priorities. It is based on the mutual "commitment to democracy, diversity, and opportunities for all,” on history and shared values, multilateralism and the rule of law, the minister said in a statement to Handelsblatt.

Ms. Freeland, who as trade minister fought vehemently for the recently signed Canada-E.U. free trade agreement CETA, hopes that the deal will clear the remaining legal obstacles and enter into force this year. "CETA will serve to deepen the already strong ties between Canadians and Europeans," she said.

Canada is the predictable partner in North America. The U.S. currently lacks the same kind of predictability. Werner Wnendt, Germany's Ambassador to Canada

Like Europe, Canada is gaining clarity on the future course of the U.S. under Mr. Trump. His rejection of free trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement is just one irritation of many between the two countries. Mr. Trudeau is betting on cooperation with Mr. Trump, although his thinking differs in many areas. Mr. Trump's immigration ban, which Mr. Trudeau opposed with a well-publicized welcome to refugees, is just one area where the two leaders differ.

In times of change, stable relations are a valuable asset. "Canada is the predictable partner in North America," said Werner Wnendt, Germany's ambassador in Ottawa. "The U.S. currently lacks the same kind of predictability. We know where we stand with Canada. We share the same values ​​and goals, and that makes a big difference," he added.

German-Canadian ties were developed under the previous, conservative government of Stephen Harper, and have intensified under Mr. Trudeau's liberal administration, according to Mr. Wnendt. "We have similar positions on many issues, such as climate change, renewable energy and also with respect to Ukraine and Syria," Mr. Wnendt pointed out.

CETA is not the only bilateral deal strengthening bonds between the Canada and the E.U. An "Agreement for Strategic Partnership" was negotiated alongside the trade deal, encompassing statements on multilateral cooperation, arms control, cooperation in the fight against terrorism, sustainable development and cooperation in science, research and cultural affairs.

Canada has for decades been one of Europe's closest partners on the international stage and is referred to by the E.U. as "like-minded." But Canadians have often complained that their country is not on the E.U.’s radar. This has obviously now changed, thanks in part to Mr. Trudeau’s and Mr. Trump’s election victories.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany's Green Party leader Cem Özdemir was the first German politician to visit Canada after the change of power in the United States. "We must seek solidarity with Canada now more than ever. Canada under Trudeau is an important and natural partner for Germany, think of the work on climate change, the commitment to an open society and cooperation in NATO, " he said.

This was also the basis of Germany's relationship with the U.S. under former president Barack Obama, but "Trump threatens to devalue all these tasks, massively hurting the transatlantic partnership," Mr Özdemir said. Europe must stand shoulder to shoulder with Canada, he added.

But the Green politician is less enthusiastic about CETA, and wants the deal renegotiated. "I would be happy if we could send a signal against protectionism together. A renegotiated CETA would offer the chance to do so," Mr. Özdemir said.

David Long, a professor of politics from Carleton University in Ottawa, believes the importance of Canadian-European relations has grown. In Canada, the E.U. continues "to have a friend when it comes to multilateralism, Nato, the position on Russia and trade," Mr. Long said. CETA was improved as a result of renegotiations last year and could be "a bulwark against the complete disintegration of the trading system and transatlantic trade," he added.

Constant references to common values and history sometimes ring hollow, "but you only know what you had when you have lost it," Mr. Long said. But he pointed out that Europe could not expect Canada's undivided attention. "Trudeau will direct a lot of attention to the U.S. He has to. We have to deal with the U.S.," Mr. Long said.

When it comes to dealing with the U.S., Europe may find it has a useful friend in Canada, said Paul Heinbecker, the former Canadian ambassador to Germany and the United Nations. "Europeans can count on a liberal and progressive government in the years to come," he added. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, "might be Europe´s worst enemy. Not even Putin has said anything like Trump about Europe."


Gerd Braune is Handelsblatt’s correspondent in Canada. To contact the author: [email protected]