When Germany’s center-left Social Democrats, the SPD, gather for a party convention later this week, the major free-trade deal between the United States and Europe is likely to be among the most passionate discussion topics.
The SPD party, which is the junior coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, arguably holds the future of the deal in its hands. If it votes to reject it, Ms. Merkel likely won’t get it through the German parliament.
While party leader Sigmar Gabrial has been a vocal supporter, the SPD is facing serious pressure from its base and from activists to reject the agreement, known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, which would create the largest economic free-trade zone in the world.
The anti-TTIP group Campact, in an open letter to the SPD, warned that the free-trade deal being negotiated between Brussels and Washington DC goes against the fundamental values the party holds dear. It called on the party not to give up its red lines – such as on protecting employee rights.
For U.S. trade officials, the push-back against a free-trade deal in Europe, led by Germany, has been surprising. It is also alarming – both Brussels and Washington are starting to view the intense opposition on both sides of the Atlantic as a threat to the odds of actually agreeing an ambitious deal.
“I think that TTIP is drifting. It needs to be reframed and re-explained, particularly in Germany and in Europe,” Robert Zoellick, the former chief U.S. negotiator and World Bank chief, said in an interview with Handelsblatt and select other European publications.