Germany to take control of EU/US trade deal, leak suggests

September 4, 2014, 11:02 AM UTC
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U.S. tech companies hoping for unfettered access to the E.U.’s market under a major new trade deal got the bureaucratic equivalent of the ice bucket challenge Thursday.

A draft document obtained by the website Euractiv sketching out how the top jobs in the new European Commission will be handed out suggested that Germany’s Guenter Oettinger will take responsibility for the E.U. side of the negotiations for the next five years.

Oettinger is a long-time political ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, and analysts say his appointment would ensure Europe will take a tough line on the new ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’.

TTIP, hailed by its advocates as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to break down remaining trade barriers between the U.S. and E.U., has run into a storm of protest in Germany–traditionally one of the biggest advocates of free trade–over concerns that it will allow big companies too many rights to sue governments.

In addition, the ongoing tensions over U.S. spying on its biggest European ally has made German public opinion wary of giving free rein to the–mostly U.S.-based–companies that dominate the internet and the world of big data.

“Merkel is concerned that the political environment around TTIP has become completely toxic,” says Pavel Swidlicki, an analyst with the think-tank Open Europe in London. “This is a smart move.”

The E.U. is currently reshuffling jobs at its Brussels-based Commission, the executive branch that drafts and polices the vast majority of European law. Countries traditionally lobby furiously to secure for their nominees the portfolios most important to them.

The other most striking aspect about the leaked draft appears to be another victory for Germany, in as much as the Economic and Monetary Affairs portfolio is earmarked for Finland’s Jyrki Katainen, one of Merkel’s staunchest allies in the endless all-night slanging matches over bailouts during the euro’s sovereign debt crisis.

French President Francois Hollande had been eager for former finance minister Pierre Moscovici to get the post, largely because no other country in the Eurozone is having as many problems as France in getting its budget deficit down, in violation of new common rules on budgets forced through by Germany and its allies.

Moscovici has been earmarked by new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for the Competition portfolio.

“Having the Eurozone debt rules interpreted by a Frenchman would be something that Hollande could more easily sell as a victory domestically,” Swidlicki said.

The U.K., meanwhile, has been assigned a portfolio for Energy and Climate Change, one that is unlikely to satisfy a government that is more concerned with reducing what it sees as needless E.U. bureaucracy, especially since the position appears to be subordinated to a new ‘super-vice-president’ for Energy Union, the Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis.