The Anti-TTIP Movement in Germany. The Role of Framing and Information and Communication Technologies in Mobilizing the Masses

Term Paper, 2017

25 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Framing a Non-Negotiable TTIP
2.1 Collective Action Frames in the Anti-TTIP Movement
2.2 Framing Processes in the Anti-TTIP Movement

3 The Role of Organization and Campaigning in the Anti-TTIP Movement
3.1 The Internal Structure of the Anti-TTIP Movement
3.2 Mobilization and Strategies of Campaigning within the Anti-TTIP Movement

4 Conclusion

5 References

1 Introduction

In October of 2015, 250,000 people from all over Germany marched on the streets in Berlin in order to protest the free trade agreements the European Union was negotiating with the United States, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Canada, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). This was the largest public protest in Germany since the anti-Iraq war demonstrations in 2003. Previously to the TTIP negotiations, which began in 2013, international trade deals were hardly on the public agenda and not of great interest to advocacy groups or non-governmental organizations (von der Burchard, 2016, In order to implement TTIP in the EU, it has to be approved by the European Council and the European Parliament and afterward has to be ratified by all 28 member states. In light of the ongoing protests, debates and mobilization against the trade agreement, the latter requirement appears to be a big challenge and persuasion effort for European governments. Bauer states that “[m]any observers were surprised that intense criticism of TTIP initially emerged in Germany. Germany’s economy is by far one of the most trade-intensive in the world […]. However, in Germany (and Austria) a few environmentalist and anti-globalisation groups started to wage a resolute battle against TTIP through the Internet, primarily on social media” (2015a, p. 124).

Protesters in Germany contest the trade agreements, especially TTIP, in a number of respects, such as the precautionary principle, environment and consumer protection, food standards and outsourcing as well as Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) which would give companies the opportunity to challenge governments in front of a special court. Pro-TTIP advocates claim that the deals would bring lower tariffs, less regulatory barriers as well as a larger pool of consumers. They argue that consumers on both sides of the Atlantic would benefit greatly as the deals would boost the economy and they would have a wider variety of products and popular goods to choose from. In addition, foreign investors would be better protected and small businesses would have incentives to participate internationally.

This term paper will deal with the question how these anti-TTIP groups and contestants have managed to mobilize citizens to such extents as international trade deals are not traditionally on the public agenda. I argue that these organizations, such as Campact, Attac, and Mehr Demokratie, succeeded because they framed the issue in a way that struck a chord with the general public and the sensational online community which also tapped into existing narratives of anti-globalization and distrust towards the establishment, and because they made efficient and extensive use of new media technologies to spread these frames. The focus will thus be on investigating the different framing techniques and processes that were applied by the movement as well as its inherent structure and how these factors were combined with the use of online media in an effort to challenge the European Commission of the trade deal. With this combination of successful framing and use of online media they have managed to create an extensive base for protests against TTIP and CETA that has stifled the negotiations and final ratification for three years by now. In this regard, this paper will first elaborate on the different framing techniques that were applied by the protest leaders in light of existing narratives and discourses. Following, I will take a closer look at important NGOs such as Attac and Campact and protest groups such as Stop TTIP and TTIP unfairhandelbar [TTIP non-negotiable] and their successes in organizing and getting people onto the streets. Subsequent will be an examination of their use of online media and social media platforms that were employed to distribute these frames and mobilize the masses.

2 Framing a Non-Negotiable TTIP

This chapter will deal with the way TTIP and its negotiation process was framed by its opponents. To do so I will base my argumentation on Benford and Snow's research on frames from 1988, 1992 and 2000. They define framing as “[…] an active, processual phenomenon that implies agency and contention at the level of reality construction. It is active in the sense that something is being done, and processual in the sense of a dynamic, evolving process” (2000, p. 614). A focus will be given to aspects of collective action frames and framing processes which have the purpose to create a relatively soft collective identity that answers to the plurality of large social movements in order to unite them in pursuit of a definite aim (Cornelsen, 2016, p. 8).

2.1 Collective Action Frames in the Anti-TTIP Movement

Collective action frames are “[…] action-oriented sets of beliefs and meanings that inspire and legitimate the activities and campaigns of a social movement organization (SMO)” (Benford and Snow, 2000, p. 614). This implies that they give meaning to events and hence have the capability to guide action and organize experience. Furthermore, they are “[…] constructed in part as movement adherents negotiate a shared understanding of some problematic condition or situation they define as in need of change, make attributions regarding who or what is to blame, articulate an alternative set of arrangements, and urge others to act in concert to affect change” (Benford and Snow, 2000, p. 615). These constructions are further subdivided into the core framing tasks of diagnostic framing, prognostic framing and motivational framing. The former two are supposed to achieve consensus mobilization while the latter provides the incentive for active participation. In order to be successful in mobilizing and appealing to a wider audience, Benford and Snow defined two preliminaries for collective action frames: “One set concerns the internal structure of the larger belief system or ideology with which the movement seeks to effect some form of alignment. Another pertains to the extent to which the framing effort is relevant to or resonates within the life world of potential participants” (1988, p. 205). These frames can later turn into master frames that are generic of a movement.

Diagnostic framing serves the need to identify a specific problem and who or what is to blame and provides a concrete culprit as a point of focus. In the anti-TTIP movement, the main problems identified are the intransparency of the negotiation, a threat to European standards with regard to environment and consumer protection and product quality, the precautionary principle, an economic decline in terms of job losses and price deflation, the ISDS courts and in this respect the transfer of political power from national governments to multinational corporations. Especially the latter point seems to trigger great anger and fear among citizens because it is seen by TTIP-opponents as a possibility for big companies to force governments into dropping legislation in order to meet their demands and this shifts the discussion from a set of quality and regulation standards to the perception that the legislative self-determination of nations and the constitutional democracy is challenged and that European citizens are being sold out to an American vision of globalization. Christoph Bautz, part of the Executive Board of Campact, said they were fighting against “the Googles and Monsantos of this world” (quoted in Finkbeiner, Keune, Schenke, Geiges & Marg, 2016, p. 17). As a result, the USA, European Council and major corporations are framed as the main culprits. However, on the European side of the Atlantic the protests are addressed at the EU as they are not only seen as culprits but also as the party who has the power to stop TTIP and hence has to be addressed in a direct manner. Van Ham sums up their culpable role as follows: “The European Commission (1) had failed to take into account what European citizens really want; (2) had sold out to special interest groups, most notably major corporations; and (3) does not negotiate with the United States in a transparent way, thereby undermining democracy” (2016, p. 3). The protest movement separates itself from governments and corporations which leads to a notion as “them” against “us” and hence provides a valid framework of a non-democratic trade deal and the empowerment of big corporations that triggers the necessary anger and discomfort to be dedicated to a cause.

The second task is prognostic framing, which “[…] involves the articulation of a proposed solution to the problem, or at least a plan of attack, and the strategies for carrying out the plan. In short, it addresses the Leninesque question of what is to be done, as well as the problems of consensus and action mobilization” (Benford and Snow, 2000, p. 616). As social movements often contest a specific opponent, prognostic framing often incorporates rebutting these actors' arguments, actions and logic. During the cycle of dissent it can be observed that the movement's strategies changed and transformed. In the beginning, the main point of their actions was to get the information out there and gain support. From there the strategy shifted to more concrete proposals such as letters to leading advocates of TTIP and forming citizens' initiatives in order to enter direct dialogue with officials and responsible parties. However, even though alliances such as TTIP unfairhandelbar were formed in order to collect counter-proposals and demands, it appears that the major part of the movement endorses putting a stop to the trade agreement. Another main part of debate and protest was the intransparency of the negotiations which proved to be a cause for distress and a feeling of “being left out” for a lot of protesters. Hence, the movement was framed as a demand for the preservation of social standards and democratic rights (the right to have a say in the matter) to the point of terminating the negotiations entirely (Finkbeiner et al., 2016, p. 62).

The final core framing task discussed here is motivational framing, which provides a movement with a “[…] rationale for engaging in ameliorative collective action, including the construction of appropriate vocabularies of motive” (Benford and Snow, 2000, p. 617). As a consensus on culpable agents and possible solutions does not necessarily lead to action, participation is “[…] contingent upon the development of motivational frames that function as prods to action” (Benford and Snow, 1988, p. 202). As previously described, the movement managed to establish diagnostic and prognostic frames that defined the problem and its causes and then named possible plans of solution. The final step is to actually implement these plans by taking action. These frames are not only supposed to define a movement's cause, but also trigger the will to protest and change something by answering to fears, passions, social values and general beliefs. The anti-TTIP movement has engaged in an number of public protests and marches so far, such as in Berlin in October 2015 and in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt in September 2016. These were precise calls to action organized by NGOs and protest groups. Other calls to action include petitions, letters to official TTIP advocates, and the founding of citizens' initiatives. These citizens' initiatives are included in EU law and grant citizens the right to address the European Commission directly if they can collect one million signatures. In order to motivate people the organizers of the movement apply a constant discourse of fear that taps into existing concerns about capitalism and the decline of democracy. This results in a frame about political disenfranchisement of the citizens, the will to defend democratic policy-making and concern about market standards.

A collective action frame can become successful when it resonates well with the public in terms of credibility and salience. In order to be credible, a frame has to be consistent, hold up empirically and be proffered by credible proponents. The salience of a frame refers to how central it is and its narrative fidelity which means a frame's resonance with established cultural stories, myths and folk tales. (Benford and Snow, 2000/1988) The movement accomplished to give their frames credibility by supporting their arguments with professional expertise on the one hand and the high profile and experience of the organizing NGOs on the other hand. Some of the NGOs such as Greenpeace, Campact and Foodwatch are well known names in the field of campaigning for social, environmental and legal causes. Furthermore, the movement's arguments gained credibility when Greenpeace leaked the official TTIP documents in May 2016. The content of these documents proved what had been long suspected by leaders of the movement and hence gave new momentum to the cause. The movement gained salience as it applied central frames that also display narrative fidelity, which are anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism and a decline in democracy as well as environmental and food standards. Events of the past such as the economic crisis in 2008 and several scandals created a general distrust towards big corporations. Furthermore, due to events such as the refugee crisis and the European debt crisis an inclination towards anti-globalization can be observed in the German population. In addition, organizations such as Greenpeace and Foodwatch that promote sustainability and healthy trends like organic and natural products further found a very responsive audience in Germany which is why it is even harder to pitch a trade deal with the US to them, especially as the US is greatly defined by narratives about sensationalism, abundance and “blue tomatoes” in Europe. The latter remark refers to the slacker American regulations towards genetic engineering and food and cosmetic standards that are deemed unhealthy by the German population. Van Ham's statement summarizes this: “These critical NGOs tapped into public fears and concerns on three issues: globalization’s impact on sovereignty and (national) identity; anti-Americanism; and scepticism of the EU in general” (2016, p. 3).


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The Anti-TTIP Movement in Germany. The Role of Framing and Information and Communication Technologies in Mobilizing the Masses
University of Bonn
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ttip, social movements, social demonstrations, protest, transatlantic trade and investment partnership, NGO
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Katharina Lurz (Author), 2017, The Anti-TTIP Movement in Germany. The Role of Framing and Information and Communication Technologies in Mobilizing the Masses, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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