Germany’s leading business executives will meet the press this week and dare to do something they usually take pains to avoid: Take a political position.
Heads of car companies, such as Martin Winterkorn of Volkswagen Group and Dieter Zetsche of Daimler, will be in Berlin explaining why free trade with the U.S. is so important for the industry and requires passage of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
“Yes to TTIP” is their robust reponse to those yelling “Stop TTIP.”
The European Union has been negotiating for over a year and a half with the U.S. over a common trading zone without customs and other obstacles such as production standards.
This is seen by proponents as a way to create new growth and increase prosperity for all countries. The broader thinking is that countries freely exchanging goods tend to treat each other amicably rather than belligerently.
If other regions of the world set the standards, Europe will soon miss the boat.
Opponents of TTIP, however, are mobilizing as if the next economic war is imminent.
They point to Americans’ chlorinated chickens while hiding the antibiotic-stuffed European birds behind their backs. They warn that the Bundestag will no longer determine laws or that German criminal courts will be bypassed in matters of wrongdoing for the courts of arbitration.
There’s also a measure of latent anti-Americanism reverberating through the opposition. These fears are spread not only among the left-wing activists in the Social Democratic Party (SPD), but also among conservatives in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who stand to gain from free trade. It may become very difficult to quickly allay these fears.
Perhaps it helps to note that the E.U. also faced serious skepticism when member states created a common economic area in 1994. Today, businessmen as well as consumers benefit from free trade. They will also benefit from the TTIP, if the regulations are right, and that should be the focus in negotiations.
If in doubt, both sides should first agree to abolish tariffs and align standards before the whole projects fails. This would allow contentious issues to be tackled at a later date, when trust can define the negotiations. Historical insight proves that nothing is more important than joining together.
Moving closer together allows for setting better standards, which translates to production advantages, opportunities for innovation and, in the end, growth. If Europe allows other regions of the world to set international standards, its values will ultimately be undermined. We need to have a proper discussion about this.
Aristotle said that “man is a political animal.” And for the TTIP agreement to proceed – and succeed – our business people need to consider themselves as “zoon politikon” – a political part of society that can express its opinion like anyone else.
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