German opposition to EU-U.S. trade deal takes to the streets

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 09, 2015 9:48 AM

BERLIN (Reuters) - At least 50,000 people are set to demonstrate in Berlin on Saturday in Germany's biggest mass rally yet against a U.S.-EU trade deal, suggesting government efforts to warm public opinion to the pact are not working.

The protest is being organized by a coalition of unions, environmental groups, charities and opposition parties that fear the trade deal will erode democracy and European standards on food safety and the environment.

Trains and buses will take participants to the capital from all parts of Germany.

Berlin police expect up to 100,000 protesters and closed off several streets in central Berlin on Friday in preparation. The route will take them past the city's central train station and the national parliament.

"We are uniting all sectors of German civil society in protest and are very satisfied with the predicted turnout," Joern Alexander, spokesman for the initiative, told Reuters.

The European Union hopes the Pacific Rim trade deal sealed with the United States this week will add impetus to its own trade talks with Washington, which have stalled in recent months.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she wants to reach a political framework for the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the world's biggest pact, by December.

But Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel last week expressed doubts about the deadline, pointing to the U.S. elections in November 2016.

The German public is divided. In the latest survey by polling group Emnid in July, 42 percent viewed the pact favorably, while 36 percent considered it a bad thing.

Opposition to the trade deal has grown since February of last year when the poll was first conducted and only 25 percent of the respondents expressed concerns.

"The mood has significantly shifted over these last few

months and we believe that a majority of Germans are backing us now," Alexander said.

While businesses hope the trade deal will deliver over $100 billion of economic gains on both sides of the Atlantic, opponents fear it will result in European health, consumer safety and environmental standards being reduced.

Resentment toward the trade deal is further fueled by a general scepticism among Germans toward the United States linked to revelations about U.S. spying on foreign leaders, including Merkel.

While the United States enjoys a mostly positive image among western European nations, Germans are considerably more critical.

In a survey by the Pew Research Center from June this year, just 50 percent gave the United States a positive rating, while 45 percent expressed a negative one.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Tom Heneghan)