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13 October 2015

TTIP in Austria- national Green perspectives

In the first in the series we look at the TTIP campaign in Austria, which has one of the lowest acceptance-levels for TTIP in Europe according to the polls. So what stirred public opposition? Sebastian Wedl reports

DIE GRÜNEN ASSISTANT, AUSTRIAN PARLIAMENT

Political grassroots-work by the Greens:

The Austrian Greens were the first political party in Austria, along with a host of NGOs, to start the discussion about TTIP and to bring it up in parliament, thus raising attention amongst the public and the media. After many newspaper articles, press conferences and off-the-record conversations, the Austrian Greens even decided to make TTIP one of the top priorities in the campaign for the European Parliament elections in 2014. The result was an extreme success; the issues around TTIP resonated with the public and contributed to the Greens gaining 14.5 percent – the best Green result in the whole Europe.

PHOTO BELOW: Austrian Greens (including Vice President of the EU-Parliament Ulrike Lunacek (left) and MEP Monika Vana, protesting against TTIP, CETA & TISA in October 2014.

Political and grassroots action:

To date, parliamentary initiatives have helped to solidify opposition to TTIP, with politicians invoking  urgent requests within a parliamentary session and convening an EU-subcommittee to deal with TTIP. In September 2014 the Austrian Parliament passed a very TTIP-skeptical resolution. Until today almost 300 municipalities in Austria officially declared their community as “free from TTIP”, represented by mayors of different political parties.

The self-organised European Citizens’ Initiative against TTIP and CETA was signed by more than 142,000 people in Austria - ten times more than it would have needed to reach it’s country quorum. The European Commission rejected the proposal, saying there cannot be a European Citizens’ Initiative against something that has not been finished yet. This highly controversial move is now being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. As you can see – a lot of work has already been done in Austria.

Unexpected help and the two-minded Government:

The chart above shows that Austria has the lowest acceptance-rate for TTIP amongst citizens in the whole Europe. The reasons are eclectic. On the one hand NGOs and the Greens have been campaigning against TTIP from the start. On the other hand something remarkable happened at an early point of the discussion: The Kronen Zeitung – Austria’s biggest newspaper with a readership of more than 31.6 percent of all citizens of Austria – started a huge campaign against TTIP. With it’s millions of daily readers, it has a strong influence on public debates in Austria. In this case – luckily for us - they have chosen to adopt a Green position. This unexpected help has brought a lot of pressure to the government and the other parties in opposition.

The Austrian government is still two-minded when it comes to TTIP. The Social Democrats (SPÖ) instantly adopted the opinion of the Kronen Zeitung. As the newspaper is very powerful in Austria, even some high-ranking politicians from the Conservatives (ÖVP) have made negative comments publicly, although the ÖVP is actually the biggest supporter of the trade agreement with the US. The right winged FPÖ has also always been against TTIP but more because of a general anti-US-attitude than because of substantial political reasons. NEOS - which are part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – are pro-TTIP.

Nonpolitical key players:

Since the Kronen Zeitung is heating up the debate around TTIP – not only political decision-makers have publicly expressed their opinion about the agreement. For example a lot of cultural artists have expressed their worries along with privacy groups, farmers and also the bosses of big commercial chains such as REWE and Spar who fear that the high standards for food in Europe could be lowered with TTIP. On the other hand the proponents of TTIP have been big unions like the Austrian Economic Federal Chamber or the Industrialists Association.

Since the Kronen Zeitung has chosen to be against TTIP (along with other yellow press publications) the quality media in Austria interestingly seems to be rather pro TTIP – although it’s reporting and coverage is of course much more sophisticated and is therefore providing space for wider opinions.

At what point are we now:

Since there has always been a lot of attention for TTIP in the media, the awareness within the public in Austria is relatively high. There is no problem to bring TTIP to the public debate – our problem is rather to keep the debate alive. Therefore right now the Austrian Greens are trying to bring the focus back to the CETA-agreement with Canada. Since the investment protection agreements (ISDS) have already been installed in CETA and it is already negotiated, we fear that it could be used to justify ISDS in TTIP. CETA will be discussed in the European Council in January. So although a lot of work has already been done – there is much more to come. And we are looking forward to it.

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