German cities are the site of rallies against transatlantic trade deals critics say would increase corporate power at the expense of governments and citizens. The trade pacts are losing traction amidst public skepticism.
Seven major German cities saw rallies Saturday by groups seeking to head off Europe's plans to sign new far-reaching trade deals with both the United States and Canada.
Altogether, more than 100,000 demonstrators have taken to the streets of Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Leipzig and Stuttgart. However, the turnout is somewhat lower than authorities initially expected.
Police reported that all the marches so far remain peaceful.
In Cologne, six activists from the environmental organization Greenpeace unfurled a 150-square-meter (1,650-square-foot) banner from a bridge over the Rhine. Although police initially raised an alarm, the environmental demonstrators were later allowed to proceed. Farmers also drove their tractors into the city center and unfurled a banner reading, "TTIP and genetic engineering, keep away from our farms!"
Opinion divided over TTIP
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would create a free trade zone between the United States and the European Union that would lower tariffs to boost trade but also potentially undercut national environmental standards, worker protection and other regulations.
A controversial provision would create special tribunals to hear cases by corporations against governments over lost profits, which critics say would give private companies a potential veto over public policy created to protect workers and the environment.
Columnist Daniel Eckert, writing in the conservative German newspaper "Die Welt," said trade deals would benefit the global economy.
"A further lowering of tariff barriers, the dismantling of bureaucracy and international standardization are rather cost-effective methods to create greater wealth that future generations can benefit from," he wrote.
A similar trade pact with Canada, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), is slated to be signed next month.
But growing public skepticism has made the trade pacts a tough sell for pro-business national leaders on both side of the Atlantic. A Friday poll by the Paris-based Ipsos Institute shows about 28 percent of Germans had doubts about the trade pacts' advantages. And 52 percent said they believe the agreements would weaken standards and result in the import of defective products, according to the same survey.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said high unemployment in much of Europe makes free trade agreements necessary to keep the economy running. But Peter Gauweiler, who quit the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union to protest the chancellor's economic policy, has called these same treaties "a danger for democracy."
Organizers of the "Stop TTIP & CETA - for a fair world trade" protests had hoped for a far greater turnout for the demonstrations.
"We hope that more than 250,000 participants will join in the march nationwide," said Roland Süss of the anti-globalization group Attac, one of the organizers of the demonstrations.
Trade officials in Brussels and Washington say they want to complete the negotiations for the TTIP before US President Barack Obama leaves office in January next year. A fresh round of talks between the US and European Union is scheduled for October.
jar, dm/rc (dpa, AFP)