A wide-ranging trade deal between Canada and the European Union should not require approval from the bloc's national parliaments, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told EU leaders on Tuesday, despite pressure from member states.
The deal, reached in October 2013, was at the time described by the EU as a "landmark achievement for the transatlantic economy" and a stepping stone for a free trade agreement with the United States. It is the largest such accord ever pursued by Canada.
Canada and the EU now hope to sign the deal in October, once it has undergone the necessary approvals on both sides of the Atlantic.
Many EU governments want their parliaments to weigh in on the deal, amid growing public opposition to the parallel, but bigger, trade deal being negotiated with the US, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
But Juncker told EU leaders on Tuesday that CETA falls within the exclusive competence of the bloc and therefore needs not be ratified by national parliaments, sources in Brussels told dpa.
It would, however, be scrutinized by EU lawmakers and ministers from all member states, Juncker added. The EU currently has 28 member states, but Britain voted last week to leave the bloc.
However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she would ask parliament in Berlin to weigh in on the matter, noting that there were good reasons to involve national legislators. The commission had only given its legal opinion, she noted at summit talks in Brussels.
Juncker's argument is that allowing national parliaments to vet the agreement would paralyze the process and put the bloc's credibility to negotiate trade deals at stake, according to the sources.
There are estimates that it could take as many as four years for CETA to get through the EU's national parliaments.
Member states could jointly reject the view of the commission, a move which would threaten to block the CETA ratification process for an indeterminate period.
Critics worry that CETA and TTIP could allow corporations to block undesirable regulations, while many fear the deal being sought with the US would also water down consumer protections.
Britain's expected departure from the EU has also raised fresh questions over the deals, as London has been one of the bloc's strongest proponents of free trade.
On Monday, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom stressed the bloc's commitment to the trade negotiations, despite the "unprecedented situation" facing the bloc.