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Boycott of Europe Loses Steam

So far, the feared American boycott of German and French products has failed to materialize. But an increasing number of Europeans are shunning Coke, Jack Daniels and other symbols of the U.S.


BMW's new Mini: It's made in Germany, but it's a bestseller in the U.S.

Several weeks ago, Senators and members of Congress in the United States raised the specter of a boycott against German products and services. The calls came after German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said he would vote against any resolutions introduced at the United Nations legitimizing a war against Iraq. Earlier, during his re-election campaign, Schröder said he was against a U.S. war against Iraq and would not provide any military or financial support for one.

But anti-German sentiments in the United States have so far failed to cross over into trade relations. In fact, sales are growing for Mercedes-Benz, which has seen its revenues stateside increase by 1.8 percent, and BMW, which has booked 18 percent growth -- largely due to the popularity of its revamped Mini. The only exception is Volkswagen, whose sales have been sluggish across the board.

Arndt Ellinghorst, an analyst for the German bank WestLB, told DW-WORLD that consumers purchasing durable goods, like luxury cars, tend not to be influenced by emotions. And if the revenue figures are anything to go by, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's decision to criticize the U.S.' war against Iraq has had little impact on German-American trade ties.

Business as usual

Producers of consumer goods and foods have also reported business as usual, suggesting that calls for a boycott have found little resonance. Even French wines continue to fare the same, despite the trend in the U.S. to rename French foods, like the U.S. Senate's re-christening of french fries. French wine sales have declined in recent years, but not over differences of opinion, but rather the popularity of Californian and Australian wines, according to the Wine Institute in San Francisco, California. Yet, despite the deep conflict between Paris and Washington over the Iraq war and the related calls for a boycott of French products, market share losses for French wine were lower during the first part of the year than they were in 2002.

Though there are plenty of sites out there devoted to bashing "Old Europe" -- including www.germanystinks.com and www.francestinks.com, which have made an art of trashing European political leaders and encourage users to offer renaming suggests for foods that are too German sounding, like the Hamburger -- they have so far failed to influence the spending decisions of American consumers, who are still keen to drive German cars and drink German beer.

Europe's answer

Ironically, Washington bashing sites in Europe seem to be finding more resonance than their American counterparts. A number of the sites call on consumers to boycott American products as a form of protest against President George W. Bush's war policies. "Send letters to American firms, but buy your products from European companies," a statement on www.amerika-boykott.com reads. The site provides links to lists of American companies and the products they sell or own in Europe.

The leader of Germany's Protestant Church, Manfred Kock, has criticized calls for a boycott against U.S. and British products. While firmly maintaining his opposition to the war, Kock has said his criticism of Washington's should not be perceived as anti-American. Some members of the Catholic Church, however, have taken a different approach. In a recent interview with a public broadcaster in Berlin, Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, who leads the church in the city, said he sympathized with people who are boycotting U.S. products.

Europe responds

In Germany, calls for such a boycott have found at least some support according to anecdotal evidence. Some restaurants have stopped serving Coca Cola andJack Daniels whiskey. They've also stopped using Heinz ketchup in recipes. Restaurants have also reported that more customers are asking for non-American alternatives to Coke, like Germany's homegrown Afri-Cola.

Coca Cola Germany has confirmed that the boycott has had some impact on its business operations. Klaus Hillebrand, spokesman for Coke in Essen, said the company had felt the boycott in a few different areas. "We're a symbol for America and we have to live with these kinds of expressions of opinion," he said. But he also pointed out, ironically, that the people who will most suffer from a boycott are the company's 11,000 German employees, whose jobs could be at risk if sales drop. In Germany, Coke is produced by the country's 24 domestic bottlers.

Ford Autos werden auf dem Rhein verschifft

The giant inland cargo ship "Barco" carries some 550 Ford Fiesta and Ford Fusion cars on board as it moves on the river Rhein near Cologne bound for Britain, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2002. The transport by inland cargo vessels helps to cut down costs and is more environment-friendly, as the transportation on the road usually needs some 70 trucks to move the same amount of cars. Some 260.000 cars yearly leave the Ford plant in Cologne by ship, some 100.000 are transported to Britain by ship, which is the cheapest way to transport the cars. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The same holds true for a number of other American companies that manufacture and sell products in Germany with a large local staff, including the Ford Motor Company, which has a major manufacturing plant in Cologne.

Fred Irwin, the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Frankfurt, notes that many American products are manufactured under license in Germany. Thus, a boycott would do more harm to the German economy than it would to the American companies it is targeting. For the most part, he said, there have only been isolated instances of Germans boycotting U.S. products.

But there have been a few exceptions, but mostly in the small change department. Darmstadt-based bicycle-maker Riese and Müller has stopped purchasing parts from American companies because of its opposition to the war. Until the ban on American products, the company had purchased close to €300,000 a year in parts from companies based in the States. In a statement, however, the company said it would resume purchases from the U.S. if the three companies it does business with there issue public statements opposing President George W. Bush's war policies.

Elusive contracts

A far more pressing concern than a boycott for German and French companies is the fear of being cut out of the rebuilding effort after the war in Iraq ends. The U.S. Ambassador to France in Paris, Howard Leach, recently said contracts would be awarded "according to the rules of free market competition" and "in the best interest of the Iraqis." But that provides little comfort for companies here, who are still smarting from the first Gulf War. In 1991, the U.S. awarded the lion's share of contracts to American firms despite the fact that Germany provided massive financial aid during the first Gulf War. Together, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait financed 80 percent of the military operation.