EU leaders will be asked at their June summit to recommit to controversial free trade negotiations being conducted with the United States, the bloc's executive said Monday.
The European Union and the US have held negotiations for almost three years on the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would create the world's largest free trade area with 800 million people.
Proponents of the free trade deal say that it will boost economic growth and jobs. But the plan also has many critics, who worry that it will water down consumer protection provisions and allow corporations to block undesirable regulation.
The negotiators, who are trying to conclude the deal before the end of this year, are entering a "crucial phase," European Commission spokesman Daniel Rosario told journalists in Brussels on Monday.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will thus ask EU leaders at their June 28-29 summit to "reconfirm the commission's mandate to conduct these talks," Rosario said.
"We have to make sure that we are all rowing in the same direction," he added. "President Juncker feels that the time has come to ask heads of state and government of the EU to have a new discussion on where we are and where we want to get with these negotiations."
The aim is to allow the negotiators to head into the "final stage" of their free trade talks knowing that they have the support of EU leaders, another commission spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, said.
"This political signal is important to obtain," he added, saying that the commission is hoping for a "strong revalidation" at the summit.
The leaders of the G7 countries - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US - last week reaffirmed their commitment to wrapping up the EU-US free trade negotiations this year. But they also warned that any deal will have to be "ambitious, comprehensive, high standard and mutually beneficial."
There has been growing scepticism about whether a deal is possible before the US elects a new president in November.