Matthias Fekl, Foreign Trade Secretary, has said there is not enough political support to continue negotiating the TTIP.
Whether the latest statement by the French Secretary is just political theater or not is still unknown, but it seems that France is about to give a blow to the controversial negotiations on the free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States.
“If discussions can not reach an agreement by the end of the year, France may not approve it,” said President Hollande on Tuesday at the Elysee Palace.
Matthias Fekl, French Secretary of State for Trade, announced this morning that France will ask the European Commission for the “final” cessation in the talks regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement.
Hollande has argued that there are “obvious imbalances” in these negotiations. Speaking at the annual meeting of all French ambassadors, Hollande insisted that France “rejects globalization without rules” and that any trade agreement must be “based on reciprocity,” a condition that is not fulfilled in this case.
The Commission and EU negotiators insist on the advances made on the agreement after each round of negotiations. Brussels is deaf to the statements made by Fekl and Hollande.
“We have a clear mandate from the Member States. We do not negotiate to weaken our European standards, we have the ambition of universal recognition of those standards,” said a European spokesman on Tuesday.
Fekl has told RMC radio that the end of negotiations, which took three years ago and have already consumed 14 meetings, should be “pure, simple and definitive”.
“There is no political support from France for these negotiations,” which have generated “a lot of distrust and fear.”
France has been the most critical country in Europe, and in April it further hardened its positions; even threatening to boycott the negotiations.
“France can always say no,” Hollande said just days before meeting President Barack Obama in Hannover.
Are their requirements specific in protecting their agricultural and cultural interests or on reciprocity in access to financial markets and public contracts on both sides of the Atlantic?
If tariffs disappear and the controls are harmonized, France fears the massive arrival in Europe of cheaper goods, which are also treated with hormones or antibiotics, especially agricultural and livestock products.
He has also conditioned the continuation of negotiations to that in case of conflict between a multinational and a State, the dispute must be resolved with greater transparency.
Washington prefers to have it done through an arbitration tribunal with members elected by the company and the government and that this debate is done in closed meetings. The European Commission accepts arbitration, but also calls for more transparency.
Fekl announced that he will explain France’s position at the meeting of trade ministers of the EU scheduled for late September in Bratislava.
The European Commission is responsible for negotiating with the United States, but Secretary Fekl does not blame the EU executive: “it is not the Commission’s credibility that is at stake in this issue, but the United States”.
“Americans give nothing or, in any case, crumbs. And do not negotiated between allies.” The negotiations “are not up to the historical relations between Europe and the United States.”
The Vice Chancellor and Social Democrat leader, Sigmar Gabriel, called the European-American pact a de facto “failure”.
“Although no one dares to admit it,” said Gabriel, an economy minister in the government of Angela Merkel. The Social Democrat leader strove to differentiate between the TTIP, which he considers dead, and the treaty with Canada, which he defends.
Gabriel, a former defender of free trade agreements, deals with this movement to win over the most left part of his party and its electoral prospects increase with an issue that mobilizes large sections of the population.
More than 150,000 people demonstrated in Berlin last October against TTIP; and next September 17th there are planned marches in several German cities against trade agreements with the US and Canada.
Popular opposition to trade agreements was demonstrated last April during the last visit of Barack Obama to Germany. Merkel’s party now attacks Gabriel for his criticism of TTIP.
“We have to remind you that as Economy Minister you owe your position to the German people, not the SPD or the leftist wing of the party”, said the secretary general of the CDU, Peter Tauber.
German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Tuesday that the two sides were still “far” from the standards necessary for proper negotiation. Steinmeier admitted that he is “very far” from seeing a consensual pact with Canada.
In Italy, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Carlo Calenda, said it is “essential for Italian exporters that negotiations get to a successful conclusion.” Calenda said in an interview with Corriere della Sera that “TTIP will be signed. It is inevitable.”
The US trade representative, Michael Froman, reacted to statements by Gabriel and assured the German newspaper Der Spiegel that “negotiations are in constant progress”.
The French announcement comes during an electoral year, eight months before the presidential race reaches its end, which is why Hollande’s statements on TTIP might just be a distraction to gain popular support.
The alleged French rejection of the TTIP comes just two months after the Brexit, which obligates Britain to negotiate its exit from the EU. Hollande himself has said that he prefers if Britain’s exit is completed by the end of 2019.