May 05, 2016
The case for dropping TTIP
We can see why France opposes TTIP, but Germany should be one of the beneficiaries. Yet in Germany opposition to the transatlantic trade and investment partnership is running particular high. ARD Deutschlandtrend, one of main German polling organisations, has come out with a poll according to which 70% believe that TTIP is negative. Even most supporters of the FDP, the most liberal of German parties, oppose it. Among SPD voters, only 13% are in favour, and this clearly includes the party's leader, Sigmar Gabriel, who is fighting a hopeless battle. According to this poll people see that it would benefit companies, but most believe that it would damage consumers. This is no surprise given how the TTIP leak was reported in the German media, where the focus has been on the possible imports of genetically modified food to Europe. If you want to kill TTIP, this is how to do it.
The poll also registered 62% opposition to Angela Merkel's dirty deal with Turkey, especially the lifting of visa restrictions. Fewer refugees are arriving in Germany, but for Merkel the crisis is far from over. The ARD poll has both the CDU/CSU and the SPD down to 33% and 20% respectively, just barely enough for the two parties to form another grand coalition if this is what they want to do. The AfD is at 15%. The detailed analysis, which is more revealing than the headline numbers, suggest that AfD supporters like it a lot that the party does not mince words on refugees, but they are critical of the party's failure to distance itself from far-right influences. The party is therefore vulnerable, and might still implode. But it strikes a chord, more so than any other right wing parties in the past.
Another poll already has the SPD at under 20%. But, whatever the precise number, the weakness of the SPD and the rise of the AfD are the dominant issues in German politics today.
With these polls, we see virtually no chance that TTIP can be ratified unless the Europeans prevail entirely in the debate on consumer protection. The fact that the European Commission is already lowering its standards on visa-free travel for Turkey is not exactly a confidence booster. If they do a similar number on consumer protection, expect a major political insurrection.
The TTIP papers may not have contained any substantively shocking news, but the secrecy of the negotiations and the subsequent leak allowed the critics to assemble the news coverage in a way that put TTIP supporters on the defensive. This is now confirmed by the polls. The German grand coalition supports TTIP, conditionally. If it were to ratify a deal, it would pay heavy political price given its already weak poll ratings.
A TTIP-light version that excludes the controversial elements might be an alternative. But it would still cost political capital. The trade-off is probably not worth it, though this would depend on the precise nature of the agreement. We think they should put the negotiations on hold until after the 2017 elections. There is a risk, of course, that a delay would frustrate an agreement forever, but an attempt to force it through now could easily trigger a populist backlash in one or several of the forthcoming national elections.