The top heads of the European Union are expected to visit Canada this year, as officials discuss the possibility of Ottawa joining a major research-funding pact. 

"We are expecting the summit still to take place this year," the EU's ambassador to Canada, Melita Gabric, said Friday.

Brussels and Ottawa hold leaders' summits every two years as part of an agreement signed in 2017 alongside a major trade deal. These summit have so far involved the Canadian prime minister and the top two heads of the bloc of 27 countries.

Gabric said detailed planning for the visit has yet to start, but she expects both sides will hammer out details on an agreement that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signed with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March.

That agreement called for more collaboration on everything from green vehicles to fighting disinformation. A major focus was the circular economy, such as recycling battery components to help get closer to a net-zero economy.

The summit would likely involve a visit by both von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel to Canada. The Canadian Press has asked Global Affairs Canada about the timing of the summit.

In a roundtable with Ottawa journalists, the European Commissioner for Budget and Administration, Johannes Hahn, said the summit will help both sides take stock of their support for Ukraine. It could also further talks to have Canada possibly join a more than $100-billion scientific research program called Horizon Europe.

The program has seen countries like New Zealand and Israel sign up for research projects partially funded by the EU, involving themes like the digital industry, health care and climate innovation.

Ottawa and Brussels started negotiations on Canada joining the scheme last November, with the initial goal of signing an agreement this past spring that would be in place this calendar year. 

Meanwhile, Hahn, whose job is equivalent to that of Canada's president of the Treasury Board, said Europe wants to collaborate more with Canada on regulatory, fiscal and political matters.

He also argued that a bigger push for multilateral engagement can help both regions engage with others such as Africa on matters from trade and infrastructure investment to climate change. 

"If we are not working and living in a world which is based on agreements and contracts which are expected, we might face difficulties in the future," Hahn said.

Hahn was visiting Canada this week to drum up investment in the European Union's program for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and to push for more countries to use the euro currency in international transactions. 

He said Friday that both are buoyed by the union's strong credit rating, which trumps those of many of its own member countries.

Hahn helps oversee Next Generation EU, an economic recovery package similar to Washington's Inflation Reduction Act. The European funding disproportionately helps poorer countries, but Hahn argues that it will also benefit richer states like Germany and the Netherlands. 

"Those who have much more firepower understand that it's in their own interest, that you have a well-functioning single market," he said, adding that the money is meant to help Europe's transition away from fossil fuels

A report last month by the Climate Solutions Lab at Brown University in Rhode Island found that the continent's investment in wind energy has peaked since an initial boom after Russia escalated its invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. 

The researchers believe regulatory challenges and high interest rates could be hindering the green shift.

Gabric and Hahn both said that Europe looks to Canada for hydrogen in the medium-term future, but each said that it's not feasible to establish liquefied natural gas exports from Canada, since it will take years to establish export capacity on Canada's East Coast.

"Natural gas is not so much relevant for us because the facilities are on the other side of your country," Hahn said, adding that hydrogen is "extremely interesting" to Europeans.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2023.