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Europe by Numbers: TTIP-Toeing

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Responses in Germany and the United States: The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is …

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Source: Bertelsmann Foundation

We have to keep increasing the trade and investment that supports jobs, as we are working to do between the United States and the EU.” So said US President Barack Obama at the April Hanover Fair, in a speech that is already being treated as the opening stanza to the swan song of his presidency. There was no mistaking what he was referring to: outside, 50,000 protestors had gathered to express their disapproval of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, still in negotiations. Its success or failure will likely be one of the final achievements – or frustrations – of his time in office.

Yet the battle looks to be increasingly uphill, at least in Germany. While 55 percent said the agreement would be a “good thing” for Germany back in February 2014, that support has eroded sharply. In an October 2015 TNS Emnid survey, a 46 percent plurality said TTIP would be a “bad thing,” compared to only 34 percent who were still in favor. Meanwhile, in a Bertelsmann survey conducted in February of this year, 33 percent of Germans said it would be a “bad thing,” compared to 17 percent who said it would be a “good thing.”

What has caused this decline? The problem is not fundamental opposition to trade with the United States: the same Bertelsmann survey found that 61 percent of Germans think increased trade with the United States would be desirable. In fact, Germans were eager to increase trade with a variety of partners – two thirds would like increased trade with Japan, three fourths would like increased trade with France and the United Kingdom, and slim majorities would like increased trade with China and India.

Instead, the source of their concern seems to be an expectation that the deal will inevitably lead to lower environmental and safety standards for products sold in the European Union. Germans were split when they were asked about the effects TTIP would have on economic growth, employment and labor conditions, international competitiveness, and Germany’s global influence; but strong pluralities said the effects on consumer protection (48 percent), environmental standards (46 percent), workers’ rights/social standards (40 percent), and regulatory sovereignty (37 percent) would be negative.

“It has to do with the realization that TTIP is a new type of trade agreement,” says Christian Bluth, one of the authors of the Bertelsmann survey. “This is less about lowering already low tariffs; this is about regulatory harmonization.” Indeed, Germans seem to have little trust in the United States’ regulatory regime. When asked if they trusted EU or US standards more in a variety of areas, Germans expressed an almost universal preference for European standards – 69 percent had more faith in European food safety standards, 59 percent in European data privacy standards, 66 percent in European environmental safety standards, and 56 percent in European aviation safety standards. “Anti-Americanism might play a minor role” in opposition to TTIP, says Bluth. But more importantly, “Trust in American standards is not very high.”

Conversely, it is worth noting that Americans do not have this same faith in their own standards: only 37 percent expressed more confidence in American food safety standards, along with 27 percent who preferred American data privacy standards, 31 percent who preferred American environmental safety standards, and 33 percent who preferred American aviation safety standards. Americans are none too happy with this state of affairs: 76 percent would like American standards to move closer to those of the EU, compared to only 45 percent of Germans who would like EU standards to move closer to those of the US.

And while other Europeans may be willing to compromise for the sake of economic growth, Germans may simply feel that, living in one of the EU’s strongest economies, they do not have enough to gain. A 2015 Eurobarometer poll showed support for “free trade and investment agreement between the EU and the US” hovering at 56 percent continent-wide, with France (50 percent), Poland (66 percent), the United Kingdom (62 percent), Italy (55 percent), and Sweden (60 percent) in favor. Germany and Austria were among the few opposed (59 percent and 70 percent, respectively) – two economically well-to-do countries with powerful Green parties.

But there is a silver lining, in the sense that there are still many people on both sides of the Atlantic who have yet to make up their minds. A third of Germans told Bertelsmann that they have not yet heard enough about TTIP, and a further 13 percent said that they did not yet know if it would be good or bad. In other words, there is still room for an improved information campaign. “For the opponent, it’s very easy right now to voice fears,” says Bluth, “while if you’re the proponent it’s difficult to dispel those fears.”

If Obama wants to conclude the deal before his time in office runs out, there is still time – but those inside the trade shows and convention halls may be the wrong audience.

Read more in the Berlin Policy Journal App – May/June 2016 issue.

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