Economy, Mideast top Harper's G8 agenda

Prime Minister Stephen Harper travels to Europe on Wednesday on his first foreign trip since winning a majority earlier this month.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will travel to Europe on Wednesday on his first foreign trip since winning a majority this month.

As was the case on much of the campaign trail, economic issues will feature prominently at the meeting, which begins Thursday in Deauville, France.

Indeed, Harper has asked to be one of the first leaders to speak on the issue. 

Debt problems continue in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and elsewhere, threatening the economic recovery across the continent and abroad.

But in addition to economic issues, conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa are likely to dominate the G8 agenda.

A man breaks glass in Le Havre, France, to protest against the G8 summit, which starts Thursday in nearby Deauville. Economic issues will feature prominently at the gathering. ((Vincent Michael/Associated Press))

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced economic sanctions on Tuesday against Syria, where 1,000 protesters are believed to have been killed in the recent uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

"This abhorrent crackdown must end," Baird said. "It is a grave breach of international peace."

Baird will join Harper in Canada's delegation to the summit.

G8 members Canada, France and the United Kingdom are all contributing to the mission against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya, so the conflict in that North African nation will be discussed.

The original NATO mandate is scheduled to end next month, and the G8 will likely devote some time to what should happen next. But it won't be easy to find common ground on the issue, John Kirton of University of Toronto's G8 research group says.

"Harper will need all of his determination and skill to get the G8 singing from the same page," he said.

Among other things, Harper will raise the issue of religious rights and freedoms in the region.

The plight of member nation Japan, still reeling from the March earthquake and tsunami, will also be on the table.

And a year ago, when Harper hosted the summit in Canada, the summit emerged with an agreement to give $5 billion for maternal and child health, and commit to greater accountability for G8 promises.

The Deauville meeting will be an important milestone for that agreement, Kirton said, because the African countries that receive aid money will release their own accountability report on the funds.

The summit wraps up on Friday, after which Harper is scheduled to visit Greece.