Obama’s Visit to Germany Marked by Anti-Trade-Deal Protests

By James Carstensen | April 24, 2016 | 6:04pm EDT
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama at Herrenhausen Palace in Hannover, northern Germany, Sunday, April 24, 2016. Obama is on a two-day official visit to Germany. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Berlin, Germany (CNSNews.com) – When President Obama gave a speech at Berlin’s Brandenburg gate in 2013, hundreds of thousands of people attended, greeting him with cheers and applause. Three years later, Obama’s trip to Germany met with voices of protest as over 25,000 Germans flocked to Hanover to demonstrate against the planned transatlantic free trade deal.

The protests follow a similar one last October, when hundreds of thousands of people marched in Berlin in opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

In Germany after stops in two other key U.S. partners, Saudi Arabia and Britain, Obama on Sunday officially opened the annual International Trade Messe in the Lower Saxony city of Hanover, the world’s largest industrial trade fair.

Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel prior to the Messe, discussing security and trade, and making a final push for the controversial TTIP before he leaves the Oval Office.

In an interview with German newspaper Bild published on Saturday, the president praised Merkel for her handling of issues such as the refugee crisis, saying that she has “demonstrated real political and moral leadership.”

Arriving in a Cadillac, Obama was personally greeted by Merkel and an armed forces’ Guard Battalion. Amid high security local residents were warned to “stay away from their windows.”

However, the ceremonious affair and Obama’s lavish praise of Merkel was described as a “dance of flattery” by the national news service Tagesschau. Politico commented that, “in Germany, [Obama will] confront one of Europe’s most anti-American moods and lingering bitterness over National Security Agency spying in Berlin.”

Despite this, Merkel appeared to avoid acknowledging past tensions, such as last year’s revelations of NSA monitoring of her personal phone. In response to a query about U.S.-German relations, she said, “The future with the president is more important than the past.”

While Obama’s relationship with German chancellor is reportedly strong – The Atlantic describes her as “one of the few foreign leaders Obama respects” – his TTIP agenda draws mixed views here, with concerns the proposed agreement is anti-democratic and will lower food safety, labor and environmental standards.

A new survey commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation found that although Germans have mostly positive opinions on trading with the U.S. in general, only 17 percent of respondent saw the TTIP as a good thing, with 33 percent rejected the agreement outright.

Both leaders pushed the agreement during a joint press conference Sunday.

“The E.U. and the United States must press ahead with the TTIP,” Obama stressed, while Merkel said the deal “is good for the German economy, which is good for the whole European economy as well.”

By contrast, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told business newspaper Handelsblatt that the deal is likely to fail.

“They [the Americans] don’t want to open their public tenders to European companies,” he said. “For me that goes against free trade.”

Opposition is also being voiced on the other side of the Atlantic. Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said in a statement that while the U.S. and Germany should continue efforts to deepen friendship, cooperation and trade, “the deeply flawed, pro-corporate process and agenda of the TTIP must be rejected.”

Skepticism about the TTIP comes at a time when bilateral trade is flourishing. Germany’s federal statistics office Destatis reported last month that the U.S. was Germany’s “most important trading partner in 2015,” overtaking France for the first time since the mid-1970s.

The data indicated that U.S.-German trade is now worth 173.2 billion euros (approximately $188 billion).

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