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Canada welcomes European Commission move to delay decision on oilsands

OTTAWA – The European Commission has put off a decision on controversial fuel-quality guidelines that have drawn criticism from supporters of Canada’s oilsands, with a vote to be held early next year rather than this June.

The move comes as European politicians remain deeply divided over the proposal, which would penalize fuel derived from the Alberta oilsands.

In February, an EU committee failed to reach a definite decision on the measure, with countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Holland — all home to energy multinationals with major interests in the oilsands — abstaining on the vote.

The Associated Press on Friday quoted a spokesman as saying the commission would ask the European Union’s 27 environment ministers to vote on the measure in early 2013.

“The idea is to present members an even more solid basis for decision,” Isaac Valero-Ladron, a spokesman for the EU Commissioner for Climate Action, told the news agency.

Canadian officials now have more time to ramp up their intensive lobbying effort against the measure. By the same token, it buys more time for countries that favour the fuel-quality guidelines to drum up support.

The decision to delay drew praise from the Conservative government.

“Canada has consistently been calling for a thorough assessment of the fuel-quality directive,” Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said in a statement.

“Canada welcomes the news that the European Commission will be undertaking an ‘impact assessment’ of its proposed implementing measures for the European Union (EU) fuel-quality directive. We hope that the European Commission will conduct a full impact assessment that deals with the potential costs of this measure to consumers and also the potential costs to the EU’s economy.”

Oliver says he will send a senior official to Brussels next week to meet European Commission officials.

Canada has complained about the separate category for oilsands crude and has even threatened to take the matter up with the World Trade Organization.

If the directive is approved, it will go to the full European parliament where it will either be vetoed or passed into law.

The document assigns greenhouse-gas emission values to different sources of fuel — and Canada’s key concern is that oilsands crude will be placed in a separate category, with a value that’s 23 per cent higher than conventional oil.

Canada currently sells little oil to Europe, but those in the industry fear a “dirty oil” label there could set a dangerous precedent.

— With files from The Associated Press