The European Commission may be planning to push through a free trade agreement (FTA) between Canada and the EU without approval from the bloc's national parliaments, according to a report.
Sources in Brussels told the German news agency DPA that European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker recently told EU leaders that the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) would fall within the exclusive competence of the EU executive, meaning it would not need to be ratified by national parliaments of the 28 member states.
However, Mr Juncker conceded that national lawmakers and ministers will be able to scrutinize the terms of the FTA, which the EU is hoping to get signed during a planned visit to Brussels by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau at the end of October.
The reason for this reluctance to refer the decision to national governments directly is a concern that this will slow the process to the point of paralysis, as it could take as many as four years for CETA to be approved in this way.
This is a particularly pressing problem as many EU governments are facing pushback over free trade deals, as campaigners protest they are undemocratic and offer too much power to large multinational businesses.
Austria's vice chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner was one of a number of politicians expressing concerns about the overly broad jurisdiction of the deal at an EU trade ministers' meeting in Brussels in May.
He said: "In Austria, we have quite strong distrust. I think that the commercial side of CETA is a very, very good agreement and it is regrettable that everything is now being discussed in one boat and that possibly the whole boat will now be tipped."
It is hoped that CETA, if approved, could increase trade between the EU and Canada by around 20 per cent.