Category Archives: business

How TTIP Reached a Tipping Point

Proponents of the U.S.-E.U. trade deal were caught unawares by the vehement public opposition in Germany. Activists here say that their beef is not so much with removing tariffs as with the other elements of the deal. And they say they are gaining support in other E.U. countries.

Handelsblatt Global, April 22, 2016

“Obama and Merkel are coming. Demo: Stop TTIP and CETA!”

That is the slogan being spread through social media and on posters across Germany. It is intended to rally the troops to Hanover this Saturday on the eve of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Organizers estimate tens of thousands will amass to protest the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal between the European Union and the United States, and its Canadian counterpart, called CETA.

Mr. Obama’s visit to open the Hannover Messe trade fair alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday is regarded as part of an efforts to kickstart TTIP ahead of the 13th round of negotiations next week in New York.

While it may be one of the United State’s best trading partners in Europe, Mr. Obama is entering hostile territory in Germany.

Along with Austria, the European country has the least enthusiasm for and the most skepticism about the all-encompassing trade deal, according to polls.

Last October, despite the country being gripped by the refugee crisis, an anti-TTIP rally in Berlin drew 150,000 to 250,000 people, depending on whether you accept the official count or the demo organizers’ numbers.

The anti-TTIP movement is hoping for another big turnout on Saturday.

“There is nothing in the agreement about raising standards, and that is exactly the problem. In the future it will be even harder to strengthen or raise standards.”

Thilo Bode, Director, Foodwatch

“We are expecting several tens of thousands,” said Roland Süss, a trade expert with activist group ATTAC, which has 90,000 members in Europe. The group’s members typically are vocal critics of the excesses of conventional capitalism, strong defenders of the environment and opponents of government privatization efforts.

Yet the thousands planning to meet in Hanover are only the tip of the iceberg in Germany.

A survey released Thursday in Berlin showed that only one in five Germans think TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent in 2014.

The poll by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, found that while two years ago 88 percent of Germans favored free trade in general, by February only about half of Germans considered free trade a good idea. More than a quarter reject it entirely.

“Support for trade agreements is fading in a country that views itself as the global export champion. Trade is a key driver of the German economy,” Aart De Geus, head of the Bertelsmann Foundation, said.

For those backing the deal, it is a conundrum that people in a country that relies on and benefits from global trade would want to block a deal like this.

After all, Germany prides itself on being an “Export Meister.” It is the world’s third-largest exporter with €1.2 trillion worth of goods and services traded abroad in 2015.

And trade ties with the United States are a big part of that. The United States is the biggest buyer of German exports outside the E.U., and Germany is the U.S.’s most important trading partner in Europe. At the end of 2015, bilateral trade was worth approximately $174 billion, according to the German Foreign Office.

Proponents argue TTIP will only enhance those ties, creating growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

But many non-profits, political groups and trade unions, which have led the charge against the deal, question those assertions and argue it’s not free trade per se they are opposed to.

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A Cold War Icon Revived

Once the gateway to West Berlin, the area around Zoo Station suffered decline and neglect after the fall of the Wall. Now international and German investors are rediscovering the Cold War city center.

Handelsblatt Global, September 26, 2014

It is early afternoon and police officers are shaking the shoulder of a man sleeping rough under the bridge next to Berlin’s Zoo Station. He is wrapped in a blanket, nestled beneath scaffolding in this murky underpass often frequented by drunks and junkies. A few feet away two young men in designer T-shirts and sunglasses sip coffee outside a new corner café.

The juxtaposition reveals how much the area is changing around the iconic station, formerly the main transport hub of the old West Berlin. While it had fallen into decline after the fall of the Berlin Wall it is now undergoing something of a rebirth.

Ambitious new construction projects are transforming the urban landscape here. Entrepreneurs are building luxury hotels, concept malls, office space and residential blocks, making it one of Berlin’s newest real estate hotspots.

Zoo Station has an iconic place in Berlin history. It is named after the oldest zoo in Germany, next to which it first opened in 1882. During the Cold War it was the first point of arrival for many entering the cut-off Western enclave.  One of the first things they would see is the bombed out steeple of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a reminder of the brutal war the Nazis thrust on Europe. On the other side of the square the Kufürstendamm, the prime shopping boulevard, was the showcase of capitalism in the divided city.

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German UBS clients raided on suspicion of tax evasion

The Guardian, November 12, 2012

German tax investigators on Monday carried out searches of hundreds of clients of Swiss bank UBS on suspicion of tax evasion. The raids, carried out by around 50 tax investigators across the country, were ordered by the state prosecutor’s office in the city of Bochum.

“There is an investigation into several hundred domestic customers of the Swiss bank UBS on suspicion of tax evasion,” spokesman Norbert Salamon said.

Prosecutors based their investigation on data contained on a computer disk purchased by the authorities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where Bochum is situated. The finance ministry in the state, which is ruled by the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, has purchased a total of six CDs since 2010 in order to track down tax evaders. Continue reading

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European companies squeeze US over death penalty

GlobalPost, October 9, 2012

BERLIN, Germany — Although theEuropean Union calls for the abolition of all capital punishment, several European companies have unwittingly become accomplices of executions by manufacturing drugs used in lethal injections in the United States.

Some are now seeking ways to prevent their products from being used to carry out the death penalty. The latest to join was Fresenius Kabi, a German firm based in the city of Bad Homburg, after the state of Missouri proposed using massive doses of its drug propofol.

It became the first state last May to stop using a three-drug cocktail in favor of the single drug propofol, which is widely used as a sedative and anesthetic.

The decision was prompted by the scarcity of other drugs used in executions, especially the sedative sodium thiopental.

That’s the first of the three drugs normally used in executions, to make prisoners unconscious before the lethal ones are administered.

Its only US manufacturer, Hospira, stopped making the drug earlier this year. Although it’s produced in many European countries, they moved to block the use of their products in American executions. Continue reading

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A leap worth taking: how Leipzig was saved from economic decline

The Guardian, September 16, 2012

In today’s eurozone crisis, it is little remarked upon that Germany has done financial bailouts before.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Leipzig, one of the success stories of the former East Germany. Big companies such as Amazon and DHL, BMW and Porsche, have created thousands of jobs by moving operations to what is now an attractive business and cultural centre. New roads, rail links and a redeveloped airport have acted like magnets for investment. The population has increased by 10% to 530,000 over the past 10 years.

But Uwe Albrecht, the city’s deputy mayor, is under no illusions about who needs thanking for the sudden renaissance. “Without the financial boost from the transfers from the west, it would not have been possible,” he says, referring to approximately €1.3 tn (£1tn), which has flowed from west to east since reunification.

The enormous costs that the country has shouldered since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 have pushed many to the limits of their generosity. Richer regions are complaining about constantly having to fork out for poorer states via the federal system of equalisation payments, and Bavaria has even filed a complaint with the constitutional court.

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Did landmark labor reforms pave the way for Germany’s success?

GlobalPost, August 30, 2012

BERLIN, Germany — It’s often overlooked that this country’s churning economy was recently stalling. That was the topic of a presentation by Peter Hartz, personnel director of the Volkswagen Group, to the great and good of the German media in the capital’s opulent FrenchCathedral 10 years ago this month, when he unveiled a set of ideas to turn it around.

The work of a 15-member commission reporting to Gerhard Schroeder, the proposals envisioned a complete shake-up of the labor and welfare system.

The so-called Hartz reforms provided the heart of the chancellor’s ambitious program to modernize the economy. They divided public opinion and ended up costing Schroeder his job. But many believe they were central to transforming Germany’s economic fortunes.

Now Berlin is imploring the rest of Europe to liberalize its labor market along similar lines. However, evaluations are still mixed a decade on. Although some argue the reforms reinvigorated a sclerotic labor market and slashed unemployment, others believe their larger legacy is an explosion of low-paid work and growing social inequality. Continue reading

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