Public and governmental approaches towards TTIP in the V4 countries

2016-09-19

The purpose of this study is to analyse the stance of civic and political actors in the Visegrád countries on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Based on surveys conducted by the European Commission on public opinion on TTIP we describe how TTIP’s support changed between November 2014 and May 2016 in these countries (Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland).

We’ve observed how the share of those for and against TTIP changed in certain socio-demographic and political ideology groups and among those with different views on the European Union. Based on our desktop research we’ve analysed how the rhetoric and attitude of national governments have changed on the issue and what were the most prominent information about TTIP in the media.

To supplement this, we organised a background discussion with the participation of Hungarian political and economic opinion formers and decision-makers about what they believe the economic and political effects of the TTIP agreement would be on Hungary.

The study has been made under the support of Friedrich Naumann Stiftung.

Executive summary

  • While public opinion in the Visegrád countries is supportive towards a free trade agreement between the US and the EU, the governmental actors and the media are rather cautiously optimistic about the issue, especially in Hungary and Poland.
  • The Hungarian government’s  and the governing party’s  position towards the TTIP is generally ambivalent: while at the level of official and international policy statements and actions the government is rather supportive, at the level of political declarations, the government has often been discouraging, not to mention the fact that there are openly different opinions within the government, as János Lázár, Minister for the Prime Minister’s Office has signed a Stop-TTIP petition, while the government officially supports the negotiations. Among Hungarian opposition parties, LMP and Jobbik, and less visibly PM, firmly oppose TTIP, while MSZP cautiously, DK, Együtt and the Liberals solidly stand behind TTIP.
  • Among the governments of the Visegrád Group, the most criticism was directed at the details of TTIP negotiations by the Hungarian and Polish ones. The two leaderships raised concerns about the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism and GMOs. The Polish side was also worried about food safety, while the Hungarians insisted that the agreement must be ratified by nation states. The approach of the Czech government towards TTIP is rather positive, but according to the government’s statements the Czechs will not sign a ‘blank check’. In terms of rhetoric, the Slovak government has been the most positive about TTIP recently. One of the main differences between the Hungarian government and the other members of the Visegrád group was that the Hungarians did not urge the swift conclusion of negotiations.
  • In May 2016 the majority of Europeans (51%) supported TTIP, while the share of opponents was 34 per cent. On the other hand, the pro-TTIP camp decreased constantly in every survey since the autumn of 2014, while the share of opponents increased steadily.
  • Among the Visegrád Group Polish society is the most supportive of TTIP. Six out of ten people support it and only 23 per cent are against the partnership. Among Czechs and Hungarians the advantage of supporters is more moderate than that, but still over the EU average. The Slovakians are the most divided on the issue, 39 per cent are opposed to the agreement, which is only slightly less than the size of the supporting camp (47%).
  • Europeans who place themselves on the right-wing politically are more supportive of TTIP than those on the left. Within the V4, this trend is, however, less pronounced, with only the Czechs showing significant correlation. Self-identified right-wingers in the Czech republic support TTIP (67 per cent for, 25 against), while most of those who identify themselves as left-wing voters are against the treaty. Their share is 45 per cent, while that of the supporters is 39.
  • The more informed Europeans are on the EU the more they support TTIP, however, the share of opponents is also higher in this group. In the V4 there is a higher portion of supporters and less opponents than the average among the most informed. In Poland and Hungary those for TTIP are in the relative majority even among the least informed. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic those who could only give a correct answer to one of the questions are either divided on the issue or they oppose TTIP to a small degree.
  • Trust in the European Union is strongly correlated with the support of TTIP. Those Europeans who rather trust the EU support the planned agreement between the EU and the USA in general. The distrustful are quite divided on TTIP. This phenomenon is more pronounced in the V4. In all four member states at least seven out of ten who trust the EU support the planned partnership. The share of those against TTIP is relatively low, between 16 and 23 per cent.
  • Those who believe that things in the union are currently heading in the right direction are generally supportive of TTIP. People optimistic about the European Union’s future are also mostly supportive of the partnership, while the pessimists are generally divided. In the Visegrád countries people optimistic about the EU’s future also support TTIP convincingly. Among those who are pessimistic about the future we find more opponents than supporters, except for Poland.
  • Europeans, who feel positively about free trade are significantly more pro-TTIP than those who are negative about the concept. Similar results can be measured for globalisation.
  • Based on the background discussions we organized with representative Hungarian political and economic opinion leaders and decision-makers, we have found that most of them are cautious about TTIP, even the ones who are basically supportive of free trade and increasing the intensity of transatlantic trade. Their main concerns were whether the EU could keep its current food safety standards on this level, the transparency of the negotiations, the raison d’etre of the ISDS, the competitiveness of Hungarian SME’s and if it is possible to have a TTIP-light at the end of the negotiation process. Respondents often had completely contradictory views, which is partly the consequence of the lack of relevant knowledge on TTIP and partly the result of the divisiveness of the topic domestically.

The complete study can be downloaded from here.

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