Saturday

21st Jan 2017

Obama and Merkel defend free trade

  • The two leaders held an informal dinner on Wednesday evening (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

The US and German leaders have said TTIP was a chance to “shape globalisation based on our values”, amid fears that Donald Trump would unravel trade and security plans.

US president Barack Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel issued the appeal to salvage the EU-US free trade pact, known by its acronym TTIP, in an opinion article in WirtschaftsWoche, a German magazine, on Thursday (17 November).

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  • Trump likely to fuel anti-American and anti-TTIP feeling in Europe (Photo: TTIP Game Over official Facebook page)

They said the US and the EU already formed “the largest economic zone” in the world, which accounted for “one third of global trade”, a figure worth €620 billion last year.

They said TTIP “would help us grow and remain globally competitive for decades to come” and that it would “lift living standards” for both US and European “employers, workers, consumers, and farmers”.

They also said it would have a strategic value by helping transatlantic powers to project their “values” abroad.

“Today we find ourselves at a crossroads - the future is upon us, and we will never return to a pre-globalisation economy. Germans and Americans, we must seize the opportunity to shape globalisation based on our values and our ideas”, they said.

The appeal came after Obama arrived in Berlin on Wednesday for a three day visit on his last overseas trip before he hands the White House to US president-elect Donald Trump in January.

He had an informal dinner with Merkel on Wednesday and plans to hold talks with her government on Thursday.

He is also to meet the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and Spain in the German capital on Friday for talks on Russia, Ukraine, Syria, and the refugee crisis.

Trump angst

Negotiations on the TTIP accord, already three years in the making, were put on hold after Trump’s victory.

The incoming president has spoken out against the treaty, as well as similar US-Asia and US-Canada deals.

Left-wing governments in the EU, including France, have also attacked it, while Trump’s hard-right image is expected to embolden anti-TTIP and, more broadly, anti-American feeling in the general public in Europe.

Trump has also spoken of reneging on Nato pledges to defend Europe, of making a deal with Russia on Ukraine, and of ditching the Paris climate accord.

The Obama-Merkel article said “our countries are committed to collective defence within the North Atlantic Alliance” and that the Paris deal “offers the world a framework for protecting our planet”.

Obama is to press EU states to extend the life of Russia sanctions before they expire in January and to add new ones over its alleged war crimes in Syria.

EU diplomats told EUobserver they expected the roll-over of existing sanctions to be agreed, even though some states, such as Italy and Greece, wanted a rapprochement with Moscow.

German fears

A German official told the Reuters news agency that the EU risked looking silly if it extended Russia sanctions just for Trump to cancel US measures next year, however.

"We have to prevent a situation where the EU rolls over the sanctions and then the new US president comes in and lifts them”, the official said.

Obama, while in Athens on Tuesday and Wednesday, also said the US would not abandon Nato no matter what Trump had said.

The feeling of insecurity in Europe was also voiced on Wednesday by Roderich Kiesewetter, a leading MP in Merkel’s bloc.

Kiesewetter told Reuters that Britain and France should create their own nuclear deterrent to prevent Russian aggression.

"If the United States no longer wants to provide this guarantee, Europe still needs nuclear protection for deterrent purposes”, he said.

He said Obama’s pledges were “all fine and good, but we have to measure Trump by his actions.”

"Europe must start planning for its own security in case the Americans sharply raise the cost of defending the continent, or if they decide to leave completely”, he said.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the BfV, also told Reuters that Russia was planning to interfere in German elections next year.

Hybrid election

He said anti-Merkel Russian propaganda was “part of a hybrid threat that seeks to influence public opinion and decision-making processes”.

Merkel is expected to announce her candidacy this weekend.

Germany’s right-wing, anti-EU party, the AfD, has surged in regional votes and is expected to enter parliament next year, but to be locked out of coalitions with mainstream parties.

The Trump victory, and his overtures to “work together” with populist parties, such as the National Front in France, also posed a threat to EU stability, Obama warned in Athens.

He said populist leaders such as Trump or Le Pen “tapped into” people’s fears of “globalisation” and “economic dislocation” with "a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.”

“We know what happens when Europeans start dividing themselves up, and emphasising their differences … The 20th century was a bloodbath,” Obama said.

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