Public sentiment in Germany – an early supporter of a US-European Union free trade agreement – is rapidly reversing, visiting Bundestag member Peer Steinbrück – a Social Democrat – suggested yesterday (World Trade Daily, 9/15/14).
Mr. Steinbrück is a former minister of finance in Germany – and a strong supporter of the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement from the beginning. He spoke at the German Marshall Fund on a range of US-German issues.
There are three aspects of the current debate that are forcing a re-think by the German public, Mr. Steinbrück said. Having the biggest negative impact was the revelation of electronic spying on German Chancellor Merkel – and ordinary German citizens – by the National Security Agency. That practice is against German law and should not have happened, he said.
Mr. Steinbrück said he was one member of the Bundestag to call for a suspension of the trans Atlantic trade talks until Brussels and Berlin got some explanation from Washington. He said that a “promise” not to do it again was insufficient.
Official US eavesdropping not only undercut German support for the trade agreement, but brought into question just how credible a partner the United States is. The President talked about “leadership and partnership” between Germany and the United States.
Spying on Germans severely damaged that relationship in the minds of ordinary Germans, Mr. Steinbrück stated.
The German people also are concerned about the secrecy of the whole negotiating process. Since ordinary citizens know very little about what negotiators are doing, arguments by anti-trade advocates are taking roots in the German psyche, he suggested.
There are no credible assurances yet from either Washington or Brussels that a focus on reforming the regulatory processes on both sides will not undercut high-standard European consumer and environmental protections, Mr. Steinbrück explained.
The member of parliament said that non-politicians must get out and preach the benefits of TTIP – which has not yet happened. He urged business organizations, labor and academics in the United States and Germany to get on the road and espouse the benefits of free trade.
The German Chancellor and President Obama also need to be personally involved in the debate sooner or later.
Adopting a formal investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in the final agreement also may lead to the trade pact’s demise. Ordinary Germans see no need to skirt their respected judicial system even though Germany’s 140-plus investment and trade agreements with other countries contain such a mechanism.
A large Swedish utilities company is now suing the German government under such a mechanism over Berlin’s declared policy to close nuclear power plants throughout the country.
TTIP, Mr. Steinbrück added, is much more than a trade and investment agreement. He said it will set the tenor of overall US-German relations for a decade. Should the pact fail scrutiny by Germans and their elected representatives, the injury would be deep and long-lasting.
US and EU negotiators meet outside Washington for another formal round of talks from September 29 to October 3.