Organisers of rallies against controversial transatlantic free trade agreement expect 250,000 people to take part
Agence France-Presse in Berlin
Demonstrators protest against TTIP in Berlin. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators took to the streets across Germany on Saturday to protest against the controversial new transatlantic trade agreement that would create the world’s biggest free market of 850 million consumers.
There were seas of flags in both Berlin and Munich as people flocked to join the rallies despite the rain, carrying placards and banners representing everything from anti-globalisation groups to political parties and unions. “People are not letting their mood be ruined” by the weather, said a spokeswoman for the organisers, Kathrin Ottovay.
Roland Suess from anti-globalisation group Attac had earlier said the group expected 250,000 people to turn out in seven German cities to register their opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which the EU and US began negotiating in 2013.
A new round of talks is due to start in October, and Barack Obama wants the deal concluded before he leaves office in January.
A smaller version of TTIP is also in the works with Canada, and that deal, called Ceta, is due to be signed in October.
Exporters are in favour of the deal as it promises lower tariffs, less red tape and a wider base of consumers for their goods, but the negotiations have faced opposition in Europe, where consumers fear it would ride roughshod over the 28-nation bloc’s labour market and environmental standards, and lead to more outsourcing and job losses.
Plans for a special court to hear cases by companies against governments over breaches of regulatory issues, has also attracted controversy because it is seen as giving firms a veto over public policy.
“Ceta and TTIP threaten environmental and consumer protection for millions of people in Europe and North America,” said Jennifer Morgan, the executive director Greenpeace International.
“These agreements will weaken food safety laws, environmental legislation, banking regulations and undermine the sovereign powers of nations.”
European governments are also torn over the planned deals. The French government has put up strident opposition. The prime minister, Manuel Valls, has demanded an end to the talks, while the leader of Europe’s biggest economy, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said she supports the deal.
In a recent interview, Merkel noted the high unemployment rate in several EU countries, and said: “We should do everything we can to create jobs … the free trade agreements are part of that.”
Even within her “grand coalition” government, however, there is dissent.
The country’s vice-chancellor and economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, declared that the TTIP talks had “de facto failed” last month, and insisted that “Europeans must not give in to [US] demands”.
A recent survey in Germany found that about 28% of respondents doubted free trade would really bring benefits. Fifty-two percent thought it would lead to weaker standards and lower quality products.
Peter Gauweiler, who left Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and resigned as an MP in protest against her handling of the eurozone crisis, has called TTIP and Ceta “a danger for democracy”. Writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, he denounced the proposed special court as a “form of secular sharia of capitalist managers”.
The conservative daily Die Welt was more positive. “Before money can be distributed, it must first come in,” wrote columnist Daniel Eckert. “A further lowering of tariff barriers, the dismantling of bureaucracy and international standardisation are rather cost-effective methods to create greater wealth that future generations can benefit from.”
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