Chancellor Angela Merkel has come up with what might be the best argument to convince sceptical Germans to back a proposed trade deal between the United States and the European Union – it would be good for beer.
Once finalised, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), would create the world’s largest free trade area with 800 million people.
But its opponents fear that it could water down consumer protections and give corporations more clout.
Speaking at a ceremony in the southern German state of Bavaria to mark the 500th anniversary of the country’s beer purity law, Merkel said that the German beer business could be one of the winners of the trade deal.
TTIP opponents are planning a mass rally in Hanover on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s visit by US President Barack Obama, where he is expected to promote the trade deal when he joins Merkel to open the northern German city’s industrial trade fair. The US is for the first time the fair’s partner country.
“Obama and Merkel are coming: stop TTIP and CETA!,” organisers said will be the motto of Saturday’s protest. CETA refers to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada.
In an open letter to Obama ahead of his Hanover visit, Green EU MEPs called it a “mistake” to speed up TTIP negotiations, fearing that “many European interests would be sacrificed”.
But “medium-sized breweries in particular could improve their market opportunities” as a result of the US-EU trade deal, said Merkel, flanked by beer queen Marlene Speck and Bavaria’s Economics Minister Ilse Aigner.
“He who does not have a beer, has nothing to drink,” the chancellor added, quoting the 16th century German religious reformer Martin Luther after taking a sip of Bavaria’s famed wheat beer.
But a survey of German voters released on Thursday showed what a hard sell the trade deal might be for the chancellor.
The survey, released by the Bertelsmann foundation, showed that only 17 per cent of Germans thought TTIP was a good idea.
The anti-free-trade alliance organising Saturday’s protest is made up of numerous associations, trade unions, artists and church groups, who fear that TTIP and CETA could threaten Germany’s environmental and legal standards.
A similar demonstration in Berlin in October attracted at least 150,000 people, with organisers claiming as many as 250,000 participants.