* Commission uses YouTube to promote trade deal
* EU governments send mixed messages on world's biggest
* Opponents say TTIP is threat to democracy, food standards
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, July 27 In early 2013, President
Barack Obama's call for a U.S.-EU trade deal generated such
optimism in Europe that the graffiti "NO TAFTA, NO TTIP"
scrawled under a bridge near the EU headquarters in Brussels was
an isolated message of dissent.
More than two years on, with the graffiti still there,
European officials are ruing their failure to spot early signs
of opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment
Partnership (TTIP), also known unofficially as the
Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA).
The bureaucrats are finally fighting back in a public
relations battle against outspoken activists adept at sound
bites, branding and social media.
"We barely know how to talk to ordinary people," said one EU
official involved in the Commission's pro-trade message.
Using some of the tools employed by anti-trade campaigners,
the European Commission, which is negotiating with the United
States for a deal which may still be a year off, has taken the
unusual step of launching video clips on YouTube. It has also
published leaflets, fact sheets and "myth-busting" brochures to
counter what it says are misconceptions about TTIP.
With import tariffs already low, the talks focus on
regulatory cooperation, with promises of a combined market of
800 million people encompassing almost half the world economy
and gains of more than $100 billion on both sides of the
While few people complain about the prospects of a car made
to U.S. standards being sold in Europe and vice versa, European
critics have voiced concern that the EU will lower health,
consumer safety and environmental standards, for example fully
opening up to GM crops, widely used in America but viewed with
suspicion in Europe.
A pan-European protest movement known as 'STOP TTIP' has
sprung up, supported by hard left and environmental activists,
but also regular Europeans who worry about the impact on jobs,
food safety and the power of multinationals.
Only 39 percent of Germans and 50 percent of French support
a trade agreement between Europe and the United States,
according to a Pew Research Center survey.
"WE DO GET IT!"
In one unprecedented step to deflect criticism that the
world's largest trade deal is being drawn up in secret, the
Commission has made public confidential texts used for its
In tandem, the EU's new trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom has
embarked on a tour of Europe, visiting at least half of the
bloc's 28 members in the past few months, delivering speeches on
the benefits of TTIP.
In the same vein, on weekday mornings EU trade officials can
be found giving talks to university students from across Europe
in the glass buildings of Brussels' European quarter.
Some activists say TTIP will force Europeans to eat
chlorine-washed chicken or meat from cattle fed growth-enhancing
hormones. An EU video describes these ideas as like vampires and
garlic: "pure fantasy".
Another, full of cartoon ships sailing across the Atlantic,
ends with the message: "We're listening ... we do get it!"
There are some limited successes.
The European Parliament, which has proved sympathetic to the
concerns of the 'STOP TTIP' movement, formally backed the
EU-U.S. negotiations in a recent vote in Strasbourg after months
of tense debate. A global "day of action" against TTIP in April
lacked the massive support it sought outside Germany and
Austria, where resistance to a deal is the highest in Europe.
But public support from EU governments is limited.
Asked by Reuters why the Commission did not simply launch a
television campaign to promote TTIP, EU trade chief Cecilia
Malmstrom said: "The Commission should not do campaigns. That is
not our role.
"You can't just leave the work to the Commission and say:
come and convince my citizens. That has to be done by
governments, by the parliaments and the leaders of countries."
European leaders have signed up to the transatlantic accord
in binding joint documents but have done little at home to
counter the 'STOP TTIP' movement, appearing to side with voters
who worry about the power of U.S. multinationals in a deal.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann told German newspaper
Sueddeutsche Zeitung in May that Austria wanted an accord
without investment arbitration courts, despite having agreed
with EU partners to include them in U.S. trade talks.
"The member states entered into the TTIP negotiation without
a real consensus. This is going to haunt us," said Andre Sapir,
a trade specialist at the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel.
So, while the Commission briefs students in its offices in
Brussels, on the street below protest groups are running guided
tours of the places in Brussels where they say corporate lobbies
are setting a distorted agenda for the trade talks.
For every YouTube video by the European Commission promoting
TTIP, there are dozens with black and blood-red warnings of the
terrible consequences of a EU-U.S. trade deal.
"Still haven't a clue about TTIP after watching this video,"
said a comment posted below a Commission video, adding: "Pure
(Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Anna