Malmström: Germany’s TTIP debate ‘more heated’

Malmström: The "EU is committed to have region-to-region FTAs." [European Commission]

In 25 EU member states, the majority of the population supports the planned EU-US free trade deal TTIP. But in Germany, its opponents are in the majority, something EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström could not explain during her visit to Berlin. EURACTIV Germany reports.

German Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel is accusing critics of the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) of fear-mongering. The fact that the public is being plied with the slogan “TTIP is evil”, “does not bring us ahead”, he said.

Gabriel spoke at a free trade conference hosted by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Monday (23 February) afternoon in Berlin, .

“Whoever simply hopes to stir up emotions does not trust people,” he argued. The issue of TTIP should be intensively debated but “on the basis of facts and not on the basis of vague assumptions”, Gabriel emphasised.

All in all, 58% of EU citizens are in favour of the planned free trade agreement and only one in four is against it. According to the national edition of the Eurobarometer poll, published on Thursday (19 February), TTIP has more opponents than supporters. The survey’s results showed 41% of Germans were opposed to the deal, 39% in favour and 20% had no position. Austrians and Luxembourgers were similarly sceptical, with 53% and 43% of respondents against TTIP respectively.

Another survey showed TTIP is losing favor in Germany. Only 39% of those polled still consider TTIP “a good thing”, a representative survey showed. The study was conducted by the opinion polling institute TNS Emnid on behalf of the consumer organisation foodwatch. An identical survey the organisation conducted in October 2014 showed 48% and in February 2014 the share was still at 55% of citizens in favour of the TTIP agreement.

Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström took part in Monday’s SPD conference. Asked how she perceived the TTIP debate in Germany, the Swedish politician said “it is an issue that is sexy right now”.

“The debate is a few degrees hotter in Germany than in other countries. But I am not able to sociologically analyse that.”

During her visit to Berlin on Monday, Malmström repeatedly indicated that there is a large majority in Europe that supports TTIP, even when she spoke later at the Federal Press Conference house.

“It is difficult for me to analyse why the debate is so heated in Germany,” she said, continuing that she did not know why concern is so significant in Germany and that she did not want to speculate.

It is obvious, Malmström indicated, that Germany is one of the countries that stands to benefit most from TTIP.

Gabriel hopes for modern investment protection

In the debate over TTIP, private arbitration courts are the focus of much of the criticism. Gabriel hopes to calm the dispute over investor protection in the transatlantic trade agreement with an new form of arbitration.

At the transatlantic economic forum hosted by the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce on Monday, he proposed a modernised procedure for arbitration of disputes between investors and the state.

“We need a modern investment protection regime,” the SPD politician contended. That also applies to the free trade agreement with the United States, TTIP, especially if it is to become a “gold standard” for other agreements worldwide.

Working with other Social Democratic Party and government leaders over the weekend, Gabriel said he worked on finding a way to replace the conventional arbitration court system with one based on public law. Gabriel spoke of a “ligation under public law”. In this area, there must also be more transparency and the possibility to appeal arbitration rulings. And whoever loses out in such a procedure must pay the cost, he said.

Malmström called Gabriel’s proposal “a very good idea”. At the same time, it cannot be implemented from one day to the next, she said. In the meantime, less ambitious reforms should be undertaken on the arbitration system.

But Gabriel and Malmström remained divided on whether the two free trade agreements CETA and TTIP should be so-called mixed agreements, which both the EU and national parliaments must sign-off on. Malmström considers this decision still up for debate, while Gabriel is determined that the parliaments must definitely agree to the trade deals.

Negotiations over the TTIP agreement have now completed their eighth round. Malmström expressed her hope that they will be concluded during Barack Obama’s presidency. But she said it would be unrealistic that TTIP should take effect by then.

In June 2013, the European Union's heads of state and heads of government gave the Commission the responsibility for the free-trade negotiations between the EU and the United States.

The European Commission is seeking agreement on a number of issues, including the protection of investments and the proposed mechanism of dispute settlement between investors and states.

Negotiations between the US and the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) began in July 2013.

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