Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Europe on Saturday (18 April) to oppose what could be the world’s biggest free trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and European Union.
Resistance to TTIP is fierce in Germany, with tens of thousands joining demonstrations across the country, a spokesman for lobby group Attac Germany said.
Demonstrations in other European cities also drew protesters, including 2,000 in Brussels, 1,000 in Madrid and Helsinki, and about 300 in Warsaw and Prague.
The protests came as US and EU officials are set to resume a new round of negotiations in New York today (20 April). The TTIP negotiations will continue through 24 April.
The EU-US trade deal would not just slash the already low trade tariffs between the two parties but would also harmonise regulations to an unprecedented degree, affecting goods and services as far-ranging as Roquefort cheese and accounting.
But campaigners in Europe are convinced that powerful interests are selling the consumer short in the secret negotiations.
The most contentious part of the deal includes a clause, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause, which allows corporations to sue governments in tribunals that are above national law.
Opposition to TTIP is particularly high in Germany, in part due to rising anti-American sentiment linked to revelations of US spying and fears of digital domination by firms like Google.
A recent YouGov poll showed that 43% of Germans believe TTIP would be bad for the country, compared to 26% who see it as positive.
The level of resistance has taken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and German industry by surprise, and they are now scrambling to reverse the tide and save a deal which proponents say could add $100 billion in annual economic output on both sides of the Atlantic.
In Berlin, a crowd estimated by police at 1,500, formed a human chain winding from the Potsdamer Platz square, past the US embassy and through the Brandenburg Gate to offices of the European Commission.
In Munich, police put the crowd at 3,000, while organisers Attac estimated it at 15,000. Hundreds also marched in Leipzig, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and other European cities on what Attac hailed as a “global day of action” against free trade, though the protests appeared to be largest in Germany.
“I think this deal will open the door to genetically-modified foods here,” said Jennifer Ruffatto, 28, who works with handicapped people and was pushing her baby in a stroller. “Companies will gain from this at the expense of people.”
Helmut Edelhauesser, a 52-year-old from Brandenburg, said he would prefer a free trade deal with Russia.
“The US push for world domination is unacceptable,” he told Reuters. “Obama sends out drones to kill people and wins the Nobel peace prize. This has to stop.”
Marchers held up posters reading “People have a right to food not profits” and “Beware the TTIP trap – companies win, people lose!”.
After the excesses of the Gestapo secret police under the Nazis and the Stasi in communist East Germany, Germans are also particularly sensitive to official surveillance. Revelations in 2013 that the US had bugged Merkel’s mobile phone provoked outrage across the country.
Merkel has spoken out repeatedly in favor of TTIP, but her coalition partners, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), are deeply divided. Their leader Sigmar Gabriel, the economy minister and a TTIP convert, has promised a formal party vote on any deal.