Laboring the Point

Gabriel Defends Free Trade Deal

Gabriel DPA TTIP
Sigmar Gabriel is working to get TTIP accepted by his party and the unions.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Powerful labor unions in Germany, and many members of the ruling Social Democrats, are skeptical about the impact of TTIP on public services.

  • Facts


    • Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has drawn up a 20-page rebuke to TTIP critic Frank Bsirkse, who heads the Ver.di labor union.
    • Mr. Bsirkse is a member of the TTIP advisory panel established by Mr. Gabriel.
    • The minister has to win over skeptics within his own center-left SPD party.
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  • Pdf

When Frank Bsirske thinks about the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, worry lines form on his brow.

The head of the services union Ver.di, Mr. Bsirske is convinced that the agreement between the European Union and the United States will fundamentally damage the common good.

He warns of negative consequences for public services, especially at the municipal level, where he fears American corporations will make a full-scale attack on water supplies, local public transportation, hospitals and social insurance systems. All of which could have detrimental effects on employees and consumers, he argues.

Mr. Bsirske likes to voice his concerns, for example within the TTIP advisory panel that was set up by economy minister and deputy chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel.

Mr. Gabriel, who sees more opportunities than risks in the TTIP, was so annoyed with Mr. Bsirske’s agitating that he has taken the union leader’s arguments and picked them apart one by one in a 20-page paper, entitled “Answers to Mr. Bsirske’s Theses on the Issue of Public Services.”

In the paper, which Handelsblatt has seen, Mr. Gabriel addresses each of Mr. Bsirske’s arguments, supported by experts from his ministry, and in most cases he demolishes them with relish.

“TTIP does not strive for more market liberalization but rather is much more the continuation of that status quo.”

Sigmar Gabriel, German Economy Minister

In the paper, which is intended for the TTIP advisory panel, Mr. Gabriel wrote that the German government is ensuring that neither TTIP nor CETA (the free trade agreement with Canada) nor other E.U. trade agreements “call into question the decision-making or regulatory powers of the municipalities in Germany.”

These are safeguarded in the CETA agreement, Mr. Gabriel argues, and the same thing is expected for the TTIP agreement.

The significance of public services is also mentioned specifically in the negotiating mandate of the E.U. Commission for TTIP, he said.

Mr. Gabriel, who is also leader of the center-left Social Democrats, sought to calm the fears of labor unions, to which his party has close ties, stating that TTIP “does not strive for more market liberalization but rather is much more the continuation of that status quo.”

Mr. Bsirske is particularly concerned about municipal water management. He fears that any liberalization of the sector would threaten its focus on the common good and sustainability, which is currently guaranteed due to its links with local government. Mr. Gabriel answered clearly: “There are no market liberalization obligations for the water sector.”

Mr. Bsirske also fears the effects on public waste management, with municipalities being free to either take care of their own trash disposal or outsource it to a third party, which could “exacerbate the pressure to issue calls for tenders.”  Mr. Gabriel considers this fear unfounded and wrote: “That is not true.” He again referred to provisions in the CETA agreement.

And what about Mr. Bsirske’s concern that when it comes to public hospitals and emergency services? He fears plans for building public hospitals could “come under fire,” because they might be construed as being an obstacle to private investors.

Mr. Gabriel dismisses this too, arguing that provisions in TTIP and CETA protecting foreign investors would not include any “additional protections to those afforded by national law.”


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The economy minister also dismisses Mr. Brsirske’s fear that through TTIP and CETA “existing and future funding tools in the cultural sector will suddenly hang in the balance.” That is “not true,” Mr. Gabriel wrote. He said CETA includes broad exceptions for subsidies in this area, which are also planned for TTIP.

Mr. Gabriel’s unusual and extensive reaction to the concerns of Mr. Bsirkse, an acknowledged TTIP critic, illustrates how polarizing the issue is.

It has also divided political parties. Within his own SPD, Mr. Gabriel has to fight hard to win approval for TTIP. The skeptics’ camp is currently prevailing in the party.

In June a party convention will establish the party’s official position. But the party members already know exactly where Mr. Gabriel stands on the issue.


Daniel Delhaes and Klaus Stratmann report on political developments from Handelsblatt’s Berlin bureau.  To contact the authors:,

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