Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 101–116 | Cite as

TTIP negotiations: interest groups, anti-TTIP civil society campaigns and public opinion

  • Leif Johan EliassonEmail author
  • Patricia Garcia-Duran Huet


The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was intended to create jobs and boost the economies on both sides of the Atlantic. However, constituency support was difficult to garnish, and negotiations were frozen in late 2016, leaving their conclusion in doubt. What led to this stage? Why has an agreement been elusive? Using an array of indicators this paper argues that a major reason was the extensive and professionally structured public mobilisation campaign conducted by European civil society organisations. This shifted public opinion across Europe, which in turn impacted policy. Our research contributes to the literatures on trade, lobbying, and transatlantic relations, with relevance beyond TTIP. The paper discusses how generalised and diffused interests and public opinion are impacting an area of public policy (trade) traditionally influenced predominantly by lobbying from narrowly focused interests.


trade TTIP civil society organisations lobbying EU 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Brussels Briefing on Trade, November 12, at malmstrom-ttip-to-remain-in-a-freezer-for-quite-some-time/; November 17, 2016, Trade News Analysis,
  2. 2.
    Opposition campaigns and protests have been conspicuously absent from the EU-Japan negotiations on a free trade agreement, which commenced six months prior to TTIP, and other negotiations, such as between the EU and Vietnam negotiations, which concluded in 2016.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See, for example, James Q. Wilson, The Politics of Regulation (New York: Basic Books, 1980).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For example, Gabriel Felbermayr et al. ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP): Who benefits from a free trade deal?’ Global Economic Dynamics Paper, Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung (2013)Google Scholar
  5. 3a.
    Jean François, et al. ‘Reducing Transatlantic Barriers to Trade and Investment — An Economic Assessment’, Final Report for the European Commission, Contract TRADE10/A2/A16 (London: Center for Economic Policy Research, 2013). It would be expected that participants in the highly protected and subsidised agricultural sector oppose liberalisation; it is in fact the only sector without transatlantic coordination in favour of TTIP. Cf. Alasdair Young, ‘Not your parents’ trade politics: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations’, Review of International Political Economy, Online March 28, doi:10.1080/09692290.2016.1150316. European farmers (more heavily subsidised and representing more family farms than in the US) generally oppose TTIP, and its most sensitive products were never even seriously considered for complete tariff removal. Interviews Brussels, May 2016 and Washington, DC, January 2017.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Final Report High Level Working Groupon Jobs and Growth (February 11, 2013),
  7. 6.
    This paper focuses on the European side of CSO activities. Though there has been plenty of transatlantic cooperation and coordination among TTIP opposition groups — with American CSOs advising their European peers on issues such as Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), co-authoring letters to legislators, and coordinating protests — American groups focused primarily on TPP in 2015 and 2016. Some American CSOs also supported European efforts to stop TTIP, as revealed in author interviews with representatives in Washington, DC, January 2017.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    As applied here CSOs include what Berry 1999 in Andreas Dür and Gemma Mateo, Insiders versus Outsiders: Interest Group Politics in Multilevel Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016) call citizen groups, or public interest groups, and are focused on animal welfare, consumer interests, public health and environmental causes, and international development. Labour unions spoke favourably of TTIP even before its formal launch, recognising the favourable labour standards in the EU, and the largest American labour union, AFL/CIO, privately expressed hopes that TTIP could help improve labour standards in the US (Interview, Washington, DC, October 2012).Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Space limitations prevent a deep discussion but it is necessary to highlight that opponents to TTIP can largely be divided into two camps. The reformers would accept an agreement with the US if, in their view, there were substantial revisions to proposals, including enhanced guarantees on protecting human and plant health, higher safety standards, and curtailment of what they deem corporate power. Reformers include CSOs such as the European Consumer Organization (BEUC). Labour unions, which have always been active on trade, are also reformists, though with more unacceptable ‘red lines’; they are seen as closer to the rejectionist camp (with groups such as Attac, Corporate Observatory, and War on Want, all part of the StopTTIP! Alliance, all with previous experience opposing globalisation, capitalism and trade). This group opposes an agreement under any circumstance, premised on arguments that modern trade policies are the manifestation of globalisation and neo-liberalism which exploits ordinary people. Though the two camps are joined in a cause and cooperate on protests, they differ slightly in their approaches. Reformists tend to engage in insider lobbying, public debates with trade supporters, and peaceful street protests; they also use a less confrontational social media campaign than rejectionists. For example, Giovanni Gortanutti, ‘The Influence of Trade Unions and Social Movements on EU Trade Policy’, Paper presented at EU Trade Policy at the Crossroads: between Economic Liberalism and Democratic Challenges, Österreichische Forschungsstiftung für internationale Entwicklungspolitik, February 4–6, 2016.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    For example, Anke Tresch and Manuel Fischer, ‘In Search of Political Influence: Strategic Choices and Media Coverage of Political Parties, Interest Groups and Social Movements in Western European Countries’, International Political Science Review 36, no. 4 (2015): 355–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 9.
    Jean-Frederic Morin et al, The Politics of Transatlantic Trade Negotiations TTIP in a Globalized World (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015).Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    Interview European Commission regular adviser, May 2016.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    On predictions, see Leif Johan Eliasson, ‘Problems, Progress, and Prognosis in Trade and Investment Negotiations: The Transatlantic Free Trade and Investment Partnership’, Journal of Transatlantic Relations 14, no. 2 (2014): 119–39.Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    Interview, Brussels, May 2016. Though the Commission’s January 13, 2015 press release was strategically worded to balance recognition of opposition with a determination to find a compromise to ensure ISDS or ICS is included in a final agreement.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    Interview, Brussels, May 2015.Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    The focus in this paper is the effects of the campaign, not the accuracy and validity of opponents’ arguments, which are separate issues addressed elsewhere, see Patrica Garcia-Duran and Leif Johan Eliasson, ‘The Public Debate over TTIP and Its Underlying Assumptions’, Journal of World Trade 51, no. 1 (2017): 23–42.Google Scholar
  17. 15.
    Trade has traditionally, with few exceptions, been spared large-scale public mobilisation and engagement, and instead been influenced mostly by insider lobbying from narrowly focused interests.Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    Cf. Matthias Bauer, ‘Pferd(e) und Reiter in den Protest-Kampagnen um TTIP in Deutschland und Europa’, Policy Briefing Paper. European Centre for International Political Economy (2016) In addition to references provided, this section is based on several interviews with participants and observers in Brussels, May 2016, and Berlin (via telephone), June, 2016. The opposition to TTIP (and subsequently CETA) is strictly speaking a combination of individual (pan-European and national) organisations conducting activities to stop the agreement, but the StopTTIP umbrella alliance unifies hundreds of smaller groups. Many protests across Europe have been coordinated, and the resulting dominance of social media, resulting in (crucially) changing public opinion, provide the public and many policy makers with the impression of a coordinated opposition.Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    Ferdi De Ville and Gabriel Siles-Brügges, TTIP: The Truth About the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (London: Polity, 2015); Friends of the Earth Europe, ‘Trading Away Our Future? A Threat to Europe’s Democracy and Environmental, Health, and Social Safeguards’, Position paper on TTIP, October 2013,; Bauer, ‘Pferd(e)…’; ‘Commentary by Thilo Bode: TTIP is not about blinkers’ Foodwatch, November 11 (2014),; European Consumer Organization (BEUC), ‘Consumers at the heart of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’, Position Paper, May 21 (2014), Scholar
  20. 18.
    Andreas Dür, ‘Interest Group Influence on Public Opinion: A Survey Experiment on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement’ (Working Paper, April 25, 2015), 7, 25. doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.3981.9683.Google Scholar
  21. 19.
    Cf. Anne Binderkrantz, ‘Different Groups, Different Strategies: How Interest Groups Pursue Their Political Ambitions’, Scandinavian Political Studies 31, no. 2 (2008): 173–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 19.
    Andreas Dür and Gemma Mateo, ‘Public Opinion and Interest Group Influence: How Citizen Groups Derailed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement’, Journal of European Public Policy 21, no. 8 (2014): 1206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 20.
    Eurobarometer 80 (2013); Special Eurobarometer ‘Europeans 2014’ (2014); Flash Eurobarometer 373 (2014), General/index.
  24. 21.
    Elizabeth Kensinger, ‘What We Remember (and forget) About Positive and Negative Experiences’, Psychological Science Agenda, October 2011, about/psa/2011/10/positive-negative.aspx.Google Scholar
  25. 22.
    Brian Möller-Jensen, Myter, Myte or Realitet (Herning: Systime, 1988), 6–8Google Scholar
  26. 22a.
    Cyrill Buffet and Beatrice Heuser, Haunted by History Myths in International Relations (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1998)Google Scholar
  27. 22b.
    Leif Johan Eliasson, America’s Perception of Europe (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2010).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 23.
    Raymond Nickerson, ‘Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises’, Review of General Psychology 2, no. 2 (1998): 175–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 24.
    Cf. Buffet and Heuser, Haunted by History Myths; Heather Lamarre et al., ‘The Irony of Satire: Political Ideology and the Motivation to See What You Want to See in the Colbert Report’, International Journal of Press/Politics 14, no. 2 (2009): 21231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 25.
    Cf. Jarrod Call and Brent Berry, ‘The Dissemination of Knowledge and Its Problems in American Democracy’, Public Knowledge Journal (e-version) 2, no. 1.3 (2011)Google Scholar
  31. 25a.
    Stephen Bennett, et al. ‘Citizens’ Knowledge of Foreign Affairs’, The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 1, no. 2 (1996): 10–29; Buffet and Heuser, Haunted by History Myths; Möller-Jensen, Myter, Myte or Realitet.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 26.
    Cf. Dür and Mateo, ‘Public Opinion’, 1209. For more on salience, polarisation (different beliefs and views), and actor expansion (different and greater number of groups involved) at different levels of engagement, see, for exampleGoogle Scholar
  33. 26a.
    Michael Zürn, ‘Opening up Europe: Next Steps in Politicization Research’, West European Politics 39, no. 1 (2015): 164–82, and the discussion inCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 26b.
    Niels Gheyle, ‘Politisering van TTIP: een lont in het kruitvat’ Internationale Spectator, July 4, 2016.Google Scholar
  35. 27.
    Lucig Danielian and Benjamin Page, ‘The Heavenly Chorus: Interest Group Voices on TV News’, American Journal of Political Science 38 (1994): 1072. For a discussion of the origin of mobilisation, as the dependent variable, seeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 27a.
    Niels Gheyle, ‘Adding Fuel to the Flames. How TTIP Reinvigorated the Politicization of Trade’, Paper Presented at Governance and Integration through Free Trade Agreements, Brussels, July 7–8, 2016.Google Scholar
  37. 28.
    Cf. Bauer, ‘Pferd(e)…’; Matthias Bauer ‘Manufacturing Discontent: The Rise to Power of Anti-TTIP Groups’, European Center for International Political Economy, Occasional Paper 02/2016 (2016); interview, Berlin, June 2016.Google Scholar
  38. 29.
    Interview, Berlin, June 2016.Google Scholar
  39. 30.
    Cf. Bauer, ‘Pferd(e)…’; Bauer, ‘Manufacturing Discontent’, Excluding the 31 pan-European organisations, the countries with the most vocal national groups are Germany (114), UK (25), and Austria and France (each 15). The most influential individuals on TTIP in Germany (where 2015–2016 saw an average of 1–2 TTIP related events per day across the country), are from the SDP and the Greens and Die Linke (Bauer, ‘Pferd(e) …’, 19–23), and left-leaning parties across the continent oppose TTIP, with many having well-anchored roots in the CSO community. For example, the German Left Party’s spokesperson on TTIP Michael Efler is also CEO of More Democracy, an anti-trade group, and was co-founder of the ‘Stop TTIP’ initiative.Google Scholar
  40. 31.
    Interview, CSO representative, Brussels, May 2016. As one representative noted, ‘we exaggerate claims in order to generate publicity’Google Scholar
  41. 32.
    Cf. BEUC, 2014. Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) issues had previous public exposure dating back to the 1997 EU ban on diluted chlorine washes for poultry and the 1998 World Trade Organization (WTO) row over the compatibility of EU SPS regulations with WTO rules, cf. Isis Sien, ‘Beefing up the Hormones Dispute: Problems in Compliance and Viable Compromise Alternatives’, The Georgetown Law Review 95, no. 2 (2007): 566–90. The longstanding debate over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Europe, where GMOs are widely opposed, and the 2016 EU Directive on GMOs (widely considered unworkable), have also helped keep food safety in the public realm.Google Scholar
  42. 33.
    Marsha Echols, ‘Food Safety Regulation in the European Union and the United States: Different Cultures, Different Laws’, Columbia Journal of European Law 4, no. 2 (1998). Eurobarometer 389, 2012.Google Scholar
  43. 34.
    Eurobarometer 354, 2010.Google Scholar
  44. 35.
    BEUC, 2014: 3–4.Google Scholar
  45. 36.
    Eurobarometer 354, 2010.Google Scholar
  46. 37.
    Eurobarometer 419, 2014.Google Scholar
  47. 38.
    ‘Evidence-Based Union? A New Alliance for Science Advice in Europe’, The Guardian, June 23, 2013; ‘Madness of Opposition to GM Crops Says Glover’, The Scotsman, October 20, 2013; ‘Juncker Science The European Commission’s Chief Scientific Adviser Falls Afoul of the Green Lobby’, Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2014.Google Scholar
  48. 39.
    ‘Support in Principle for US.-EU Trade Pact, But Some Americans and Germans Wary of TTIP Details’, Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, 2014,; Friends of the Earth Europe, 2013. These attacks include verbal accusations against American negotiators stakeholder meetings as witnessed by one of the authors in Brussels, February 4, 2015, where the US was accused by a prominent CSO of ‘lacking any standards whatsoever.’
  49. 40.
    Hans von der Burchard, ‘The Man Who Killed TTIP’, Politico, July 14, 2016, 10.Google Scholar
  50. 41.
    United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, ‘Recent Developments in Investor-State Dispute Settlement’, New York and Geneva, 2014,; cf.Google Scholar
  51. 41a.
    Susan Franck, ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement: A Reality Check’ (presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, October 31, 2014)Google Scholar
  52. 41b.
    Susan Frank, ‘Using Investor-State Mediation Rules to Promote Conflict Management: An Introductory Guide’ (Washington and Lee Public Legal Studies Research Paper Series 2014–13, 2014).Google Scholar
  53. 42.
    Interview, union representative, Brussels, May 2016. Jan Kleinheisterkamp, ‘Is There a Need for Investor-State Arbitration in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?’ (London: LSE Working Papers 10, 2014),; Marrti Koskenniemi,’ Investor Protection in TTIP: fading democracy or new generation?’ (presentation at the London School of Economics, February 18, 2014).
  54. 43.
    Bauer in Albane Flamant (2015) ‘TTIP: Lobby or not Lobby?’ April, Flamant, 2015.
  55. 44.
    Bauer in Flamant, “TTIP: Lobby or not Lobby?’.Google Scholar
  56. 45.
    For example, BEUC, Corporate Observatory Europe.Google Scholar
  57. 46.
    Bauer, ‘Manufacturing Discontent’.Google Scholar
  58. 47.
    Cf. ‘Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2015’, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, United Kingdom: Oxford (2015), files/Supplementary%20Digital%20News%20Report%202015.pdf; ‘Europeans Face the World Divided’ Pew Global Attitudes Survey, June 13 (2016),
  59. 48.
    European Commission, ‘Issues paper Communicating on TTIP — Areas for cooperation between the Commission services and Member States’. Brussels: European Commission, November 7 (2013), on-pr-strategy-communicating-ttip.Google Scholar
  60. 49.
    See STOPTTIP!’s website listing,
  61. 50.
    For example, Kleinheisterkamp, ‘Is There a Need’.Google Scholar
  62. 51.
    Public Citizen, TACD, Green MePs have frequently cited Vattenfall AB and others v. Federal Republic of Germany ICSID Case No. ARB/12/12 and Philip Morris Asia Limited v. The Commonwealth of Australia, UNCITRAL, PCA Case No. 2012–12, as examples, though the latter case was dismissed in December 2015. Investments, GMOs and chlorine chickens were three out the five issues most covered by the media in 201. Matthias Bauer, ‘The Spiral of Silence — How Anti-TTIP Groups Dominate German Online Media and Set the Tone for TTIP Opinion’, European Center for International Political Economy, January 2015, Scholar
  63. 52.
    For example, Corporate Observatory, ‘ISDS: Spreading the Disease Instead of Looking for a Cure’, May 6 (2015), Scholar
  64. 53.
    Natacha Cingotti, Pia Eberhardt, Nelly Grotefendt, Cecilia Olivet and Scott Sinclair, ‘Investment Court System Put to the Test New EU Proposal Will Perpetuate Investors’ Attacks on Health and Environment’, April (2016), Scholar
  65. 54.
    ‘EU Commission Releases Draft ISDS Proposal, Calling for Investment Court’ and ‘U.S. Chamber, ISDS Critics Blast EU Investment Proposals; Parliament Praises’, Inside US Trade, September 18, 2015.Google Scholar
  66. 55.
    Bauer,‘Pferd(e)…’Google Scholar
  67. 56.
  68. 57.
    Matthias Bauer in Albane Flamant, ‘TTIP: Lobby or not Lobby?’ April (2015),
  69. 58.
    There were other observable developments resulting from interest group access. The erection of a TTIP advisory group in February 2014, the implementation of stakeholder presentations and debriefings during the week-long negotiation rounds beginning with the fourth round (held February 2014). While negotiators publicly state they learned much from these exercises, stakeholders were disappointed ‘while a good idea and [we were] initially enthusiastic we realized little came from it’, and business organisations largely ceased attending after six rounds, with one explaining ‘we found it not useful after a few rounds.’ Interviews, Brussels, May, 2016.Google Scholar
  70. 59.
    Bauer, ‘The Spiral of Silence’.Google Scholar
  71. 60.
    Graphs available online at and from authors.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. 61.
    While in general more searches tended to be conducted in Germany than in any other of the selected member states, the tendency in all six cases was towards an increase in searches during this period. Graphs available upon request, but they closely track Google searches.Google Scholar
  73. 62.
    Author searches in October and November 2016.Google Scholar
  74. 63.
    Graphs available online at and from authors.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. 64.
    ‘Paris and Berlin Call for Review of E-Canada trade deal’, Euractiv, January 27, 2015,
  76. 65.
    National parliaments, and six regional Belgian parliaments, had to approve CETA after the Commission decided for political reasons (CSO protests and growing public opposition) to propose ratification as a ‘mixed agreement’ (shared EU and national competencies).Google Scholar
  77. 66.
    DeVille and Siles-Bürgge, 2015; Christian Oliver and Anca Gurzu, ‘EU and Canada Win a Trade Battle — But Not the War’,, October 30, 2016, Scholar
  78. 67.
    Eurobarometer 85 (2016).Google Scholar
  79. 68.
    ‘Open letter to the European Commission EU-US Trade negotiators’, Friends of the Earth Europe August 27, 2014, to_cssr_de_gucht_-_safety_of_europe_food_is_under_threat.pdf
  80. 69.
    Anthony Faiola, ‘Free Trade with U.S.? Europe Balks at Chlorine Chicken, Hormone Beef’, Washington Post, December 4, 2014, europe/free-trade-with-us-europe-balks-at-chlorine-chicken-hormone-beef/2014/12/04/ e9aa131c-6c3f-11e4-bafd-6598192a448d_story.html. Cf. Friends of the Earth, 2014.Google Scholar
  81. 70.
    ‘Support in Principle for U.S.-EU Trade Pact’.Google Scholar
  82. 71.
    For example, ‘TTIP and the NHS: Don’t be Fooled by New BBC Leak’ War on Want, February 27 (2015),
  83. 72.
    YouGov/38 Degrees, Survey, August 2014, uploads/document/umt71i8wcn/38degrees_results_140826_TTIP_W(new%20tabs).pdf
  84. 73.
    YouGov, Survey, March 2015, document/8h6hq2m8mr/March_Eurotrack_Website.pdf.
  85. 74.
    Eurobarometer 82 (2014), 83 (2015); 83 (2016); cf. Bauer, ‘The Spiral of Silence’; Leif Johan Eliasson, ‘The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: Interest Groups, Public Opinion, and Policy’, in Different Glances at EU Trade Policy, eds. Patricia Garcia-Duran and Montserrat Millet (Barcelona: Barcelona Center for International Affairs, 2016), 33–45.Google Scholar
  86. 75.
    The exchanges between MEPs in EPP, who approved of the resolution and were eager to vote, and the Socialist and Social Democratic group, were intense, even harsh, right up to the announcement of postponement, as observed by one of the authors.Google Scholar
  87. 76.
    Some research indicates that the receptivity to campaigns about how TTIP threatens food and public services (among other issues) is likely enhanced because of increased scepticism towards globalisation and neoliberalism generally, as well as scepticism of America. One scholar found that especially people who reject the globalisation process and oppose the EU also oppose TTIP. See Nils Steiner (2016) ‘Public Support for TTIP in EU Countries: The Correlates of Trade Policy Preferences in a Salient Case’ January 20, 2016, The problem with these findings is that support for the EU has remained steady as support for TTIP has fallen. Since support for trade generally has also remained high, Stein’s study lends support for our research showing that framing by anti-TTIP campaigns is effective.

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leif Johan Eliasson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patricia Garcia-Duran Huet
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Political science and EconomicsEast Stroudsburg UniversityEast StroudsburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of Economic History, Institutions, Political and World EconomyUniversity of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

Personalised recommendations