German demonstrators have taken to the streets in seven major cities in protest against transatlantic trade deals involving the European Union and countries such as the United States and Canada.
Organizers of the nationwide demonstrations said Saturday that hundreds of thousands were expected to convene to show their resentment against the pending trade deals, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which involves the EU and the US, and a smaller version called Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which is in the works between the EU and Canada.
“We hope that more than 250,000 participants will join in the march nationwide,” Roland Suess from the anti-globalization group Attac, said, adding that the marches were taking place in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Leipzig, Munich and Stuttgart.
Local media said posters and stickers had been plastered on any available surface in the capital Berlin, where reports said about 80,000 were taking part in the demonstration.
The protesters say the TTIP and CETA could further complicate the situation in the job market. They say the deals would also have huge environmental implications as they give firms and companies more of a leeway to expand their activities at the expense of public safety.
The TTIP, which aims to create the world's biggest free trade market of 850 million consumers, has already faced opposition at governmental levels, with France fiercely seeking to abandon the talks on the deal, which began in 2013. However, Berlin, the leading player of the European economy, continues to support it, although elements in the coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel have expressed doubt about the prospects of the agreement.
Merkel said in a recent interview that the EU’s burgeoning unemployment justifies the TTIP, saying, “We should do everything we can to create jobs, the free trade agreements are part of that.”
Her main partner in the right-left coalition, Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, declared last month that talks on the TTIP had “de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it” and that “Europeans must not give in to (the Americans') demands.” Gabriel's stance has apparently emboldened anti-TTIP protesters in Germany.
Polls show that Germans are highly skeptical of the promised benefits of the free trade, with a recent survey indicating that 28 percent of respondents were doubtful if the TTIP and CETA could really bring benefits at all, while more than 50 percent said the deals could lead to weaker standards and inferior products due to lower tariffs that the agreements are seeking to create.
Observers say the growing opposition to the TTIP may dishearten US President Barack Obama in his drive to conclude the agreement in January before he leaves office. Washington, however, has indicated that it will continue to push to finally get it signed.
Officials in the EU and Canada have expressed the same determination for CETA, the terms of which were agreed in 2014.
EU officials have rejected claims about the failure of the TTIP talks. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has repeatedly backed the deal, saying it could provide new opportunities for European companies and lead to more benefits for EU citizens.