The Cable

Germans Aren’t Buying the Trade Deal Obama Is Selling

One in five Germans opposes Obama's EU trade deal.


In Germany and across Europe over the last few days, President Barack Obama sharpened his years-long sales pitch for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a potential and massive trade deal between the United States and Europe. As a new round of negotiations got underway Monday in New York, it didn’t appear many Europeans — including Germans — were in a buying mood.

“If you’re really concerned about inequality — if you’re really concerned about the plight of workers, if you’re a progressive — it’s my firm belief that you can’t turn inward. That’s not the right answer,” Obama said Monday in Hanover, Germany. “We have to keep increasing the trade and investment that supports jobs, as we’re working to do between the United States and the EU.”

The economic benefits of the potential deal appear solid: For example, the Centre for Economic Policy Research, a London-based think tank, estimates annual potential TTIP windfalls of $134 billion in the European Union and $107 billion in the United States. Additionally, Obama said last week in London, TTIP would bring millions of jobs and billions of dollars in wages and benefits like health care access to both continents.

But opposition to international trade deals in Europe stems from the same concerns as in the United States: that foreign influences will overpower national sovereignty. In America, this fear manifests on the presidential campaign trail of Republican Donald Trump, who blames China for U.S. economic pain and Mexicans for bringing drugs and crime into the country. In Europe, concerns about the looming threat of terrorism from Syrian refugees and homegrown attackers, as well as years of economic stagnation, fuel opposition to international cooperation.

These worries are bleeding into mainstream European politics. Far-right groups in Austria, France, and other European countries have made waves in recent polls. Even some members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government have come out against her liberal Syrian resettlement plans and push for trade.

In a direct blow to the very deal his chancellor is championing, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has predicted “TTIP will fail.”

“We don’t need a free trade agreement,” Gabriel, who is also Germany’s economy and energy minister, told the German publication Handelsblatt in an interview before Obama’s speech.

This pessimism about the trade deal is evident among the German public. A recent survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a Germany-based research group, found only one in five Germans favors TTIP, while one in three would reject it. In Hanover, an estimated 35,000 demonstrators marched Saturday against the proposed deal that would cover more than 800 million people.

“Support for trade agreements is fading in a country that views itself as the global export champion,” Aart De Geus, Bertelsmann’s chairman and CEO, said recently. “Trade is a key driver of the German economy. If it weakens, Germany’s economic power, as well as its labor market, could falter.”

Photo credit: SASCHA SCHUERMANN/Getty Images

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