They were the biggest protests in Germany since the Iraq War. On a drizzly Saturday in September, over 300,000 people marched in seven major cities, including Hamburg, Munich and Berlin. They were activists of every stripe and color, but also many ordinary Germans, all united in their fight against the proposed trade accord between Europe and the United States. Unease about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) runs deep. Some 45 percent of Germans tell pollsters they want negotiations stopped, far more than in most other European countries. Shortly after the demo, Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel pronounced TTIP “de-facto failed.”
The deal’s supporters, which include the German government and much of the business community, can’t believe their eyes. How can the world’s most trade-dependent major economy, where tens of millions of jobs depend on globalized markets for German products, lead the opposition to creating the world’s largest free-trade area? If the U.S. and Europe, the most economically intertwined blocks in the global economy, can’t agree on free trade, who can?
The answer is a lesson on the power of NGOs, and the ineptitude of politicians and business leaders. In the battle over public opinion, one side mobilized its armies, while the other withdrew without resistance. In a climate of skepticism about the benefits of globalization and free trade – with rising economic nationalism on both the left and the right – it was a lop-sided fight from the start.