Thousands of protesters marched through Brussels on Tuesday (20 September) to call on the European Union to abandon the planned transatlantic free trade deals. Two large inflatable horses had been placed outside the Commission headquarters, one labelled TTIP, the other CETA. Critics say that the CETA is a Trojan horse that will usher in the wider TTIP accord. The protests came after mass rallies in German cities on Saturday against the European Union’s planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada.
There is a growing popular backlash in the West against free trade and globalisation, which critics blame for factory closures and depressed wages. Anti-TTIP and CETA groups say the trade deals would hand more power to multinationals and degrade food, environmental and labour standards or even allow big business to challenge governments. These popular fears have found an echo among senior politicians in France and Germany where a Presidential election and a general election are being held next year.
TTIP : the never-ending negotiations
The US and the EU have been negotiating TTIP for three years to forge a free trade zone covering half the world economy. Brussels and Washington have officially committed to sealing the TTIP before US President Barack Obama leaves office in January. However, not much headway has been made so far. France and Germany are skeptical. In August, Matthias Fekl, the French minister for foreign trade, increased the pressure on the proposed EU-US trade deal by calling for the talks to be called off. President Hollande said in a speech to French ambassadors: “The negotiations are bogged down, positions have not been respected, it’s clearly unbalanced.” He said he would withhold support from any agreement reached before the end of Barack Obama’s presidency. At around the same time Germany cast doubts as well. German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said TTIP had “de facto failed”, because in 14 rounds of talks on the transatlantic pact, the two sides have not agreed on a single common item out of the 27 chapters being discussed. Nevertheless, Chancellor Angela Merkel still backs TTIP officially.
CETA, moving forward?
With TTIP in dire straits, politicians are betting on CETA for a sorely needed boost to the lagging European economy. CETA enjoys more support. The terms of the agreement were agreed to in 2014 and Canada does not ring that many alarm bells as the United States. Officials on both sides of the Atlantic are pushing to sign in October. "The trade agreement between the EU and Canada is our best and most progressive trade agreement and I want it to enter into force as soon as possible," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a July statement. "It provides new opportunities for European companies, while promoting our high standards for the benefit of our citizens. Now it is time to deliver. The credibility of Europe’s trade policy is at stake". All 28 EU Member States and the European parliament will have to ratify the agreement before it comes into force. Ample opportunities for more street protests in the near future…