By Lydia Jackson
Last Wednesday, Barack Obama met German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Hotel Adlon in Berlin for a three hour press conference during his final visit to Europe as president. The pair, who have formed a strong working relationship over the past 8 years, met to discuss the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which has long been in the pipeline between the European Union (EU) and US, as well as other themes such as Trump, Putin, Climate Change and Ukraine.
Towards the end of the meeting Obama claimed that if he had a vote in the upcoming 2017 German national elections, he would use it to support Merkel.
Both leaders spoke of the strength of the US-German bilateral relationship, particularly with regards to security and trade, pointing out that the US was Germany and Europe’s most important trading partner last year. They used this argument to promote the TTIP, which they hoped would increase trade between the EU and the US by lowering trade tariffs and non-tariff barriers.
The Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), a smaller version of TTIP, was signed between the EU and Canada last month cutting tariffs by around 99%. This came after Wallonia in Brussels blocked it for some time due to feared lowering of product standards and increased power to multinational corporations, such as the ability of corporations to sue governments.
The TTIP has been subject to some criticism, notably from anti-globalisation protestors who gained coverage in September this year, as well as Greenpeace International’s executive director Jennifer Morgan, who stated “CETA and TTIP threaten environmental and consumer protection for millions of people in Europe and North America,”.
A number of European countries have expressed fears in regards to the lowering of product standards, job loss and outsourcing, with many viewing TTIP as an advantage to the US. Brexit has also made the deals less likely.
The German chancellor has tried to avert these points, claiming that strong progress had been made, yet this would not go ahead following Trump’s election as US President. Trump has expressed his support towards protectionism and has said he wishes to increase tariffs to ensure that US companies are not undercut.
Obama also expressed concerns regarding Trump, including his potentially pragmatic Realpolitik approach towards Russia, and said that he hoped that the President elect would not be too soft on Putin if he was “deviating from our values and international norms”.
Washington and Brussels have imposed sanctions on Moscow due to Putin’s failure to comply with ceasefires and withdrawal of heavy weapons as expressed in the Minsk Agreements, first signed in September 2014 to end the conflict in Ukraine.
Obama said that Trump should maintain the current sanctions and impose more if necessary, despite ample press coverage in relation to Trump and Putin’s relationship, and speak between the two of increased cooperation.
On the whole, the conference discussed the importance of ensuring a smooth transition during the upcoming change of presidency whilst maintaining security and economic prosperity through the continuation of globalisation.
Not to be forgotten are Merkel’s words on the “groundbreaking” Paris Agreement, signed by 175 countries in April this year within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including BRIC countries such as Russia and China
This universal deal legally binds states to aim to reduce emissions and support developing countries in minimising the effects of climate change on a long-term basis.