Chrystia Freeland's blithe assurance that the Canada-EU free trade deal is "absolutely moving forward" even after the Brexit vote seems dangerously careless. This is a summer of uncertainty in the European Union, and Canada's Trade Minister cannot know the deal – the biggest trade agreement Canada will see for many years – won't fall apart.
Let's hope that Ms. Freeland's post-Brexit guarantee is just over-confident public-relations malarkey and not self-delusion. There's now a window of just a few months to close the deal, and Ms. Freeland should be gearing up the lobby campaign.
So Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can declare he's confident, as he did Tuesday – but it would be better to drop the Pollyannish notion that the Brexit vote has increased momentum for deal.
Even the way the Europeans launched their own approval process showed they're in disarray.
The European Commission – the Brussels bureaucracy – tried to force the wide-ranging deal through an EU-only process that would not include votes by Europe's national parliaments. They had to be pushed back by national governments that already worry their citizens see Brussels as heavy-handed. Now all 28 EU countries must vote to ratify the deal.
But that outcome, announced Tuesday, was not really terrible news for the trade deal.
The EU has declared the deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, to be a matter of mixed EU and national jurisdiction, but it's still possible that most of the deal – the matters within EU jurisdiction – would be put into effect "provisionally" before national parliaments vote. Once it is approved by the European Council, which represents national governments, and the European Parliament, 90 or 95 per cent of the agreement could go into effect.
That means parliaments in countries where there are widespread objections, such as Romania or Belgium, can only stop a small portion of CETA, within their own borders. They don't hold a veto. If one small country wants to stop the whole deal, it needs allies.
In fact, if the European bureaucrats, led by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had succeeded in asserting the deal was not subject to approval by national parliaments, it would have sparked a backlash that could have killed the whole trade deal.
Already, EU leaders worry their citizens view Brussels as heavy-handed and undemocratic bureaucrats, and after Brexit, they don't want a trigger for anti-EU sentiment. And there are parts of the populations of many countries, including Germany, who are suspicious of the Canadian deal because they fear it is a stalking horse for a bigger potential deal with the United States.
The fact that Mr. Juncker's bureaucrats tried to force it through should worry Mr. Trudeau's government. Austria, Belgium and others pushed back. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose Social Democrat coalition partners do not love CETA, spoke out. The EU's internal squabbling is a sure sign there's no clear, easy path worked out for approval.
Europe's politics have threatened this deal before. Activists protested the investor-state provisions, so Mr. Trudeau's government renegotiated, accepting concessions. After Brexit, European leaders will want to close a deal, but they will be sensitive to their own politics. And there could be new concerns: Irish or French farmers might think Canadian meat quotas seem too big now that some of it won't go to Britain. If European politicians start to worry about those constituencies, the deal could unravel.
So now it's a sprint. The deal is supposed to be signed in October, and it's better to get it done before new obstacles pop up. Ms. Freeland can lobby European politicians, but they already know Canada wants to close the deal.
But now is the time to call on the business networks already built around the deal. Business groups in Canada have a CETA advocacy committee, and they're connected to European companies like Germany's ThyssenKrupp and France's Sanofi. They can organize a behind-the-scenes lobby. In a summer of political uncertainty, Europe's politicians are more likely to listen to firms that employ their local voters. Instead of telling us they're confident the deal is on, Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Freeland should organize the campaign to close it.