Obama heads to Hanover to pitch TTIP and talk defense | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 23.04.2016
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Obama heads to Hanover to pitch TTIP and talk defense

Global business and politics are on US President Barack Obama's agenda in Hanover. And he's tacked on a security summit with Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of France, Britain and Italy.

The streets of the northern German city of Hanover, with a population of half a million, generally get a little more crowded at this time of year, when thousands of exhibitors and about 200,000 visitors come for the world's largest industrial exhibition - one of the many trade fairs held in the capital of the state of Lower Saxony.

This year, there's one more visitor. With the United States as the partnering country for the 2016 Hannover Messe, President Barack Obama is coming to town himself, accompanying a large delegation of representatives of US businesses.

Invited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama will be welcomed Sunday for a policy meeting before his planned opening of the trade fair. And there's more on Obama's agenda in Germany than just commerce.

Deutschland Hannover Proteste gegen TTIP

Europeans turned out en masse to oppose TTIP ahead of Obama's visit

Keep kids indoors

With talks held in its newly reconstructed castle, Hanover's Herrenhaus baroque gardens will serve as the backdrop for Obama's political meetings. Business negotiations will take place on the trade fair grounds and at the HCC conference center. Each of the venues is separated from the others by several kilometers, which means that for the duration of Obama's visit, high-security measures will be imposed and areas of the city temporarily off limits to the public - including the parks near the private lake on which the grounds of the president's Seefugium hotel (picture) are situated.

Thousands of police officers will be on duty. Ahead of the visit, a community meeting was held in which regulations for area residents were laid out. "It's not like we're just inviting someone over for a coffee," Thomas Rochell, the police official heading the operation, told them. For the duration of Obama's visit, residents have been instructed not to take out their trash, stand at their windows or wave: That could make the sharpshooter on nearby rooftops nervous.

Parents have been instructed to keep their children from playing in the yard, and residents have been told to announce visitors in advance. It could have been worse: There was talk of evacuating the entire neighborhood during Obama's visit. Hanover's airspace has been partially closed, and private pilots are grounded.

As a consolation for upending their lives, the trade fair has donated 10,000 donuts to local residents, which they can pick up at certain bakeries throughout the city on Sunday. Yet the goodwill gesture hasn't replaced the bad taste left in many locals' mouths.

Increasingly skeptical citizenry

Many Europeans take major issues with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the neoliberal pact President Obama is expected to push on his visit. Those who favor TTIP have said that alleviating customs and nontariff trade barriers such as technical standards and requirements will result in economic growth and new jobs. Opponents fear the compromises will result in lower standards and have criticized the fact that the negotiations and meetings to solidify the agreement have been kept secret.

A survey undertaken by the Bertelsmann Foundation found that both Germans and Americans view TTIP with skepticism. A third of Germans oppose the pact, up from about a quarter in 2014.

Just 15 percent of Americans now say they support the agreement; two years ago, that number was just over 50 percent. Forty-six percent of US respondents and 30 percent of Germans said they did not have enough information to answer the question.

Just a few weeks ago, Chancellor Merkel had told business leaders that she hoped to seal the TTIP deal by the end of the year. In November, a new US president will be elected; none of the remaining candidates have expressed much desire to make an unpopular free-trade agreement part of their campaign platforms. If TTIP doesn't happen with Obama in office, the agreement will likely be pushed back for a more receptive time.

Business leaders remain optimistic that their deal will happen despite opposition from labor and environmental groups, however. "We're hoping to get a clear affirmation from President Obama and the chancellor this year concerning the successful negotiation of the TTIP deal," said Anton Börner, president of the Federation of German Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services. "The time for tactics is over; the negotiations have to be sped up."

On Monday, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will meet with German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel. Seven EU commissioners who are currently working on the TTIP negotiations are also expected to be in Hanover.

G-5 summit, too

Although President Obama had planned to set off for the United States already Monday afternoon, a minisummit has been called with foreign heads of state for that afternoon in Hanover.

"It's not every day that the American president comes to Europe so this is a good opportunity for an exchange," said Christiane Wirtz, the deputy spokeswoman for the German government. And there's plenty for the five heads of state to discuss. "Think, for example, about the situations in Syria and Libya and regarding refugees," Wirtz said.

Listen to audio 28:56

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The summit has Obama and Merkel meeting with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the Herrenhaus Castle. That's not good news for the locals, who'll need to obey the security regulations a bit longer, but they should be allowed to put their garbage out by 5 p.m. on Monday.