Tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets across Germany in protest over a massive transatlantic trade deal, dealing a new blow to the disputed accord.
In Berlin, as in Munich, there was a sea of flags on Saturday as people flocked to join the rallies despite the rain, carrying placards and banners representing dozens of anti-globalisation groups, NGOs, political parties and unions.
“People are not letting their mood be ruined” by the weather, a spokeswoman for the organisers, Kathrin Ottovay, told the AFP news agency.
Roland Suess, from anti-globalisation group Attac, said 250,000 people were expected to turn out in seven major German cities – including about 80,000 in the capital Berlin.
Participants waved banners demanding “democracy instead of TTIP” and “share, don’t divide”.
The European Union and the United States began negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in 2013, aiming to create the world’s biggest free trade market of 850 million consumers.
A new round of talks is due to start in October and US President Barack Obama wants the deal concluded before he leaves office in January.
A smaller version of TTIP is also in the works with Canada, and that deal, called CETA, is due to be signed in October.
Exporters are in favour of the deal as it promises lower tariffs, less red tape and a wider base of consumers for their goods.
But the negotiations have faced opposition in Europe, where consumers fear it would ride roughshod over the 28-nation bloc’s labour market and environmental standards, and lead to more outsourcing and thereby job losses.
“Some of the protesters we have spoken to today say that by agreeing to TTIP they’ll lose some of their essential human rights and it may take 100 years, they say, to get those human rights back,” Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane reported from Berlin.
“Others say there are erosions to ecological rights that are important.”
Another prickly issue is the plans for a special court to hear cases by companies against governments over breaches of regulatory issues, which opponents see as giving firms a veto over public policy.
“CETA and TTIP threaten environmental and consumer protection for millions of people in Europe and North America,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director Greenpeace International.
Not only the people, but European governments too are torn over the planned deals.
The French government has put up strident opposition with Prime Minister Manuel Valls demanding an end to the talks, while the leader of Europe’s biggest economy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, voiced her backing for a deal.
In a recent interview, Merkel noted the high unemployment rate in several EU countries, and said: “we should do everything we can to create jobs – the free trade agreements are part of that”.
Suspicion is running high in Germany over the accords.
“In Europe, they need to put people first … that’s why we must stop TTIP,” said Berlin rally coordinator Axel Kaiser, representing a group of small and medium sized firms opposed to the deal.
A recent Ipsos survey found that some 28 percent of respondents doubted if free trade could really bring benefits. More than half, 52 percent, say it would lead to weaker standards and spawn increasingly inferior products.
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