The Influence of Public Opinion in the EU Trade Negociations: How did civil Society Politicize the TTIP? Eugenia Bardaro

Executive Summary

Between 2013 and 2016, the European Union and the United States engaged in negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The TTIP promised a massive boost to growth and jobs while enabling the Western “heavy-weights” to set the standards for the 21st century.

This would have been the largest bilateral trade agreement ever negotiated. However, negotiations quickly became politicized and generated an unprecedented contestation across Europe. A broad alliance of civil society organizations (CSOs) intensely rejected the agreement for its contents and for the conditions under which it was born.

Civil society organizations spread the message that the TTIP meant to sacrifice European values and standards. These actors feared an attack on democracy by curtailing governments’ policy space, a lowering of hard-won rules and standards that protect the environment, consumers, and workers—all by negotiating in total secrecy. They attempted to persuade citizens that the TTIP would have affected product safety, public policies, and democracy.

As a result, a large opposition emerged across Europe, though it was concentrated in the western half of the European continent and the UK.

Trade policy is commonly perceived and presented as a complex and a merely technical policy domain, far from public debate and interest. However, the TTIP negotiations aroused emotions and captured the attention of a large part of public opinion across Europe. What explains this outcome?

Building upon the growing literature of factors that influenced the public opinion, this thesis investigates the dynamics of the “politicization” of the TTIP and examines how civil society organizations succeeded in leading a public mobilization campaign. This shifted the public opinion and in turn affected policy decisions. 

Mobilization for the defense of European rules and standards led to the gradual framing of an opposition that had decisive influence on the European institutions’ actions. The well-organized campaign conducted by European CSOs succeeded in raising the salience of the TTIP selecting specific issues (democracy, food standards, and so on) to simplify and emphasize. Once salience was raised and public opinion mobilized, other groups joined the mobilization, creating a snowball effect.

This research contributes to an overall better understanding of the public opinion toward the TTIP, trade policy attitudes, and public opinion in general.

Keywords: trade policy; TTIP; civil society organizations; lobbying; EU; politicization