Europe’s Anti-Trump, Pro-Trade Backlash

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If U.S. President Donald Trump goes too far in his protectionist rhetoric, he could push the European Union to seek free trade agreements with other regions of the world.

  • Facts


    • There was massive popular opposition to the E.U.-Canada trade deal in the fall, particularly in Germany.
    • The European Parliament approved the E.U.-Canada trade deal by a margin of 408 to 254 with 33 abstentions.
    • The most sensitive parts of the trade deal still have to be approved by the national parliaments of the E.U. member states, a process that could take years.
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Proteste gegen CETA in Straßburg
CETA still has plenty of critics, but they are running out of steam. Source: DPA

Just a few months ago, anti-globalization activists in Europe seemed to have the upper hand in the highly charged debate over the European Union’s trade deal with Canada, known as CETA.

In September, there were mass protests in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, against CETA and the even more controversial TTIP trade talks with the United States. A month later, CETA nearly collapsed over the opposition of Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium.

Canada’s trade minister at the time, Chrystia Freeland, walked out of talks in frustration and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called off a trip to Europe.

But the sentiment in Europe toward CETA has changed markedly since the fall. The European Parliament approved CETA by a wide margin on Wednesday in a clear rebuke to the rising protectionist sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic.

“America is no longer the enemy because U.S. President Trump is making the exact same argument as the Left Party and some factions of the Greens.”

Joachim Pfeiffer, Christian Democrats

Demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building in Strasbourg to protest, but the crowds have grown smaller since the Fall. Anna Cavazzini, an activist with the organization Campact, said that U.S. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric has cast a shadow over the anti-globalization movement.

“The debate has changed because of Trump,” Ms. Cavazzini told Handelsblatt. “It’s become more difficult to get our ideas across.”

Mr. Trump’s aggressive America-first rhetoric has unsettled many Europeans and raised concern about the consequences of protectionism, particularly for Germany. The Trump administration has accused Germany of being a currency manipulator and has threatened to impose tariffs on German automakers.

“Now many know what happens when free trade is threatened,” Brigitte Zypries, Germany’s economics minister, told Handelsblatt.

The demise of a bigger trade deal with the United States, known as TTIP,  may have softened opposition to CETA. Critics argued that CETA was a dry run for TTIP, which they feared would allow large American companies to hollow out European labor and environmental standards.

The TTIP talks, however, got bogged down during the tail end of the Obama administration and Mr. Trump has shown little interest in reviving them. The new U.S. president has already withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has threatened to tear up the NAFTA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

The stark contrast between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mr. Trump may have also cast the CETA trade deal in a more positive light in the eyes of centrist and left-leaning Europeans. Mr. Trudeau has presented Canada as an open, tolerant democracy that accepts refugees at a time when Mr. Trump has sparked global controversy with attempts to ban people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Mr. Trudeau will address the European Parliament on Thursday, the first Canadian prime minister to do so. Ska Keller, head of the Green Party’s parliamentary group, has welcomed Mr. Trudeau as the representative of a “nice country.”

Though the European Parliament has backed CETA, the battle is still far from over. Brussels can implement much of the agreement on a provisional basis, but the most sensitive parts of the deal require ratification by the national parliaments of the E.U. member states.

Provisions that allow multinational companies to take national governments to court for violating the agreement remain highly controversial. But Joachim Pfeiffer, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union, said he expects the deal to pass muster in the German parliament.

Mr. Pfeiffer said even the Left Party and the Greens may soften their opposition to the trade deal now that they can no longer use the United States as a free-trade boogeyman.

“America is no longer the enemy because U.S. President Trump is making the exact same argument as the Left Party and some factions of the Greens,” Mr. Pfeiffer said.

Dana Heide is a political correspondent for Handelsblatt in Berlin, focusing on the Economics Ministry, digital policies, the Free Democratic party and small and medium-sized companies and innovation. Heike Anger is an editor for economics and politics at Handelsblatt and Handelsblatt Online. Till Hoppe reports on politics for Handelsblatt, with a focus on defense, domestic policy and cyber issues. To contact the authors: d.heide@vhb.de, anger@handelsblatt.com and hoppe@handelsblatt.com

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