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Debates

External Action

Time to challenge (German-based) anti-TTIP propaganda organisations

Matthias Bauer / Sep 2016

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

TTIP, the designated trade agreement between the EU and the US, is not an “attack on democracy”. Nor is it a “Trojan Horse” hosting US corporate investment soldiers waiting to invade Europe. Such metaphors are, however, at the heart of a despicable marketing ploy of Germany’s green and left-wing political parties, associated NGOs and their leading political campaign managers.

Contrary to German anti-TTIP groups’ ubiquitous statements, there is no such thing as a true European citizens’ movement against TTIP. In fact, anti-TTIP (online) petitions were set up by Germans, and 48 percent of signatories are German nationals. In addition, there is no bottom-up, naturally-grown grassroots movement against TTIP in Germany. The distinct anti-TTIP sentiment in Germany is the result of a deceptive top-down campaign initiative, orchestrated by a long-established, tightly-woven network of politicians of Germany’s green and left-wing political parties, and well-connected campaign managers affiliated with Germany’s well-established anti-globalisation scene.

Germany’s green and left-wing political parties DIE GRUENEN and DIE LINKE performed only poorly in the federal elections of 2013, standing at 8.4 and 8.6 percent of total votes respectively. As Germany’s economy since thrives, its green energy revolution evolves and ever fewer Germans suffer from unemployment, these parties’ traditional party programmes became ever less appealing to voters. In the view of the author, this is why some of these parties’ major contemporary protagonists behave like cornered animals in the public debate about TTIP negotiations: they became malignant and aggressive in fear of death. Similarly, green and left-wing civil society organisations suddenly rushed on TTIP to establish renewed anti-establishment political profiles, and have since tried to take anti-TTIP protests to other European countries.

Since TTIP negotiations started in 2013, a colourful alliance of Germany’s anti-globalisation, Marxist, Christian and, particularly, environmental NGOs and political parties have run forceful campaigns against a trade agreement whose chapters have yet to be written. Highly professional campaign organisations have managed to exploit (largely uninformed) citizens’ reservations about the United States, Brussels-centred policymaking, and internationally operating enterprises.

In this regard the organisations’ anti-TTIP actions show the same characteristics as those campaigns recently run by the United Kingdom’s pro-Brexit camp. In addition, their selective, simplistic and metaphoric reasoning shows undeniable similarities to Germany’s Pegida movement, which contributed to the rise of Germany’s right-wing political party AfD. Although some of Germany’s hard core anti-TTIP groups are co-funded by the German government and even rely on EU funding, they purposefully spread myths. Speculation and sensational stories trumped empirical evidence, facts were fought with fantasy, and the truth was swallowed by powerful metaphors systematically disseminated via social online media campaigns.

Our analyses reveal that about 92 percent of TTIP-related online media reporting in Germany was originally spread by declared anti-TTIP organisations. On top of that, between February 2015 and February 2016, 60 percent of TTIP-related information events in Germany were organised and hosted by declared anti-TTIP organisations (total number of events analysed: 1,508). Even more, half of all (self-proclaimed) “TTIP experts” publicly speaking to pupils, students, employees and local entrepreneurs about TTIP were representatives of declared anti-TTIP organisations.

Overall, Germany’s anti-TTIP groups’ campaign efforts are probably best reflected by the following observations: Google search interest for TTIP is now 40 times higher in Germany than in the US. However, “TTIP demo”, where “demo” stands for a German acronym for protest, ranks first in TTIP-related queries – globally. At the same time, “Stop TTIP”, an initiative coordinated by German campaign groups, ranks fourth in global searches for TTIP. Moreover, about 1.6 million Germans signed up to the so-called “self-organised” European citizens’ initiative against TTIP (ECI) when at the same time the European Commission’s official German-language website for TTIP negotiation texts received a mere 13.117 visits, constituting 0.8 percent of Germany’s “Stop TTIP” petition signatories.

Our data also show that individual businesses and business associations as well as Germany’s conservative and liberal parties showed a feeble motivation to engage and actively shape the public debate about TTIP negotiations. Germany’s regional chambers of commerce (IHKs) were by far the most active business group engaging in local TTIP information events. However, their valiant efforts come off poorly in comparison to hyper-active regional anti-TTIP alliances and organisations such as attac Germany, Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), Germany’s green political party DIE GRUENEN and Germany’s left-wing political party DIE LINKE. Even Germany’s Catholic Labour Movement (KAB), which is on the brink of extinction, was more active in the public debate about TTIP than Germany’s most active business association.

TTIP events organised by political parties reveal a further asymmetry in the debate. Numbers adjusted for voter support demonstrate that Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) as well as Germany’s Green party (DIE GRUENEN, declared anti-TTIP) are more than three times as active in engaging in TTIP-related events than Germany’s leading conservative political parties (CDU and CSU taken together). Moreover, Germany’s left-wing party (DIE LINKE, declared anti-TTIP) is more than twice as active as Germany’s Christian Democrats. Similarly, Germany’s liberals (FDP) are 6 times less active than both the Greens and the Social Democrats, and 4 times less active than Germany’s left-wing party.

A brief look at Top 50 TTIP speakers in Germany reveals further peculiarities. The group of Top 50 speakers on TTIP in Germany includes: 11 individuals/politicians that are affiliated with Germany’s Green political party (GRUENE), 10 individuals affiliated with environmental organisations, 8 individuals/politicians affiliated with Germany’s Social Democratic party (SPD), 7 individuals affiliated with labour unions, 6 individuals/politicians affiliated with Germany’s left-wing party (DIE LINKE), 6 individuals affiliated with clerical, i.e. Catholic or Evangelical, organisations, 4 individuals affiliated with attac Germany, 3 individuals affiliated with “Mehr Demokratie”, a civil society group promoting elements of direct democracy, 3 politicians affiliated with Germany’s Cristian Democrats, and 1 politician of Germany’s liberal party FDP.

In addition to these asymmetries, is also striking to see how super-connected anti-TTIP groups’ leading figureheads are. The great majority of Germany’s most active anti-TTIP speakers are affiliated with more than one declared anti-TTIP organisations. They show multiple membership to several declared anti-TTIP groups including political parties, environmental organisations, clerical organisations, labour unions, and cross-organisational networking fora.

German anti-TTIP NGOs explicitly aim to take German protests to other European countries. Berlin-based Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung, which represents several environmental and (clerical) development policy NGOs, coordinates Germany’s anti-TTIP campaign “TTIPunfairhandelbar” (which was originally financed by Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment). It also serves as the coordination centre of the EU-wide “Stop TTIP” campaign. In addition, Campact, a professional campaign platform that was founded by members of attac in 2004, provided “start-up” financing for anti-TTIP organisations PROGRESSI (Italy: 50,000 EUR), Skiftet (Sweden: 70,000 EUR), Uplift (Ireland: 50,000 EUR), Aufstehn (Austria: 25,000 EUR), and Fundacja Akcja Demokracja (Poland: 25,000 EUR).

In Germany, defence of TTIP negotiations, competition and well-regulated open markets has become almost politically toxic – a trend that may be accelerated by European politicians gathering to form a new grand left-wing coalition in the European Parliament. For many businesses, including Germany’s most innovative and most competitive exporters, it is now even economically rational to keep their mouths shut in the debate about TTIP. The risk of reputational loss is too high.

For political parties, businesses and citizens that are interested in a Transatlantic dialogue about high standards, good rules for fair competition and, not least, good rules for good society, it is time to begin to challenge anti-TTIP propaganda in Germany, Austria and other European countries. The friends of open and pluralist societies as well as supporters of TTIP negotiations should not blame ill-informed and often anxious protesters on the streets, but confront the protest campaigns’ “puppet masters”. It is high time to hold them accountable for evoking citizens’ emotions by spreading lies, myths and anti-TTIP hate speech in the Internet and beyond.

Matthias Bauer

Matthias Bauer

September 2016

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