On 17 June 2013, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and US President Barack Obama announced the start of negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The negotiations were meant to lead to a comprehensive treaty, which would further liberalize trade and investment between the EU and the US and thereby foster economic growth. It covered not just import tariffs and other direct trade barriers, but also targeted domestic regulations that could hinder trade or impair investments.
The conclusion of the TTIP was strongly supported by large firms and business groups on both sides of the Atlantic, which stood to gain from increased trade and investment opportunities. They pushed for an ambitious and quick agreement and made their views known to European and US policy-makers by publishing position papers and organizing meetings and conferences that were attended by business representatives and government officials from the EU and the US.
A wide range of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) opposed the TTIP, arguing that it would undermine health, safety, consumer and environmental standards in the EU. Moreover, they criticized the ‘intransparent’ and ‘undemocratic’ character of TTIP negotiations, which they claimed were dominated by business interests, to the exclusion of NGOs and elected representatives. In letters to European Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, they voiced their concern and called for a public debate.
In their attack on the TTIP, NGOs sought to involve European citizens and mobilize public opinion. They were helped by the fact that, in the course of 2014, draft negotiating texts were leaked to the press. On 11 October 2014, a range of NGOs organized a ‘European Day of Action’ against the TTIP and two other trade agreements, with different types of protest, such as marches, seminars, flash mobs and concerts, scheduled in twenty-two countries throughout Europe.
In this way, a heated and highly polarized debate between proponents and opponents developed, in which the two sides used different approaches in attempts to influence the negotiating process and the ensuing agreement.