Representatives for the EU and USA are coming together in New York for the ninth official round of TTIP negotiations to debate the major transatlantic project. Public discussion about TTIP remains a hot topic, especially in Germany. However, the most interesting topics for the general public are not always those that are on the agenda in New York – which is reason enough for us to take a closer look at the media debate and the course it has taken.
German media report a great deal – and regularly – on TTIP
The GED team conducted an analysis in-house and we looked at when and how often Germany’s leading media had covered the topic of the TTIP from the start of 2014 to right now. The number of articles never dropped significantly below 20 per month. Media reports increased in frequency particularly in the months when the official negotiation rounds were taking place discussing controversial points of TTIP. The sharp rise in reports through mid-March 2014 can be traced back to the EU’s launch of an online public consultation on investment protection. Interest in TTIP declined substantially in April and then started to rise again with the start of the fifth round of negotiations in May 2014. The controversial subject of agricultural and food standards discussed in this particular round gave TTIP an especially strong boost in popularity. Over the summer of 2014 the discussion stayed at a constant level, and then began to plateau in October and November before picking up steam again in early 2015.
Twitter dominates the online debate
Germans’ love of discussion is also evident online when it comes to the planned free trade agreement with the USA.
Negotiations have increasingly captured public interest since they started back in early 2014, resulting in a growing number of TTIP topics being addressed online. Similar to the print media, the individual spikes in online contributions can be explained through the current political events around the agreement. For example, both the European anti-TTIP protest day on October 11, 2014 as well as the announcement that negotiations on investment protection would be deferred in January 2015 both led to record numbers of posts. The majority of these contributions turn up on microblogging sites such as Twitter.
What do Germans discuss?
The print media analysis shows clearly that the enduring topic of investment protection and investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) has led the public debate in Germany since negotiations started. The potential alignment of food and agricultural standards (as part of a larger TTIP consumer protection debate), the general economic effects of an agreement as well as the lack of transparency in TTIP negotiations since mid-last year are other topics that have dominated the German media landscape.
The negative voices outweigh the positive on almost all of the most heavily discussed aspects of the TTIP. Despite assurances from the government and the European Commission, a majority of the population is worried that international courts could overrule courts at home and influence domestic law. They are afraid that chlorinated American chicken and hormone-treated meat will soon be on the shelves in German supermarkets, while Americans have similar concerns about unpasteurized cheese from Europe. One of the few popular points that the media reports positively on – nearly unanimously – is the direct economic effects of the free trade agreement. Even though the jury is still out on the exact degree of anticipated effects, the majority of authors agree that Germany’s economy will benefit directly from the agreement with the USA. A similar spread in the public mood is also reflected online.
Many Germans have not yet made up their minds firmly about TTIP
Results of opinion surveys from a variety of major institutions show, however, that Germans can certainly still be influenced in regard to TTIP. Over the last year, the majority opinion among Germans on the transatlantic trade agreement has changed three times. While more than 50 percent of Germans were for the agreement in the first survey, only 40 percent still approved according to the latest survey (autumn 2014) with a small majority of those surveyed against TTIP and a solid 20 percent stating they have no firm opinion on the subject. A somewhat negative trend in Germans’ perception of the free trade agreement seems to be forming here as well. However, the heavy fluctuation in survey results also shows that a majority of these opinions are not anchored firmly in people’s minds, so there is still chance to convince Germans to support the free trade agreement. After a slow start, the German government and EU Commission have worked to improve transparency in the negotiations and public information. Those in charge need to hold this course and focus harder yet if they want to avoid facing an even more critical public.
The GED team is currently working on a second post on this topic in which we look in detail at the individual points of criticism for the free trade agreement – and we plan to have it available here for you soon.