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News article8 October 2019

The politicisation of transatlantic trade in Europe: Explaining inconsistent preferences about free trade and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

A recent JRC study focuses on the sources of the backlash over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and analyses the public opinion on free trade and, specifically, on the TTIP using data from Eurobarometers 82.3 (2014), 84.3 (2015), and 85.3 (2016) for the 28 EU Member States.

The analysis highlights the existence of divergent preferences of citizens when asked about these two issues: a significant number of individuals, about a third of European citizens, view positively free trade but at the same time are opposing the TTIP. One might have expected public support for this trade agreement to be in line with individual support for free trade, but the data suggest an inconsistency in these preferences.

Not accounting for the fact that these preferences are correlated and jointly determined could lead to biased conclusions about their determinants. Thus, the authors construct a set of bivariate probit models and calculate joint probabilities for the different types of preference configurations. Indeed, this innovative empirical approach offers an improved understanding of trade attitudes within the EU multilevel context.

Main findings of the Report

The report concludes that support for free trade and support for the TTIP have similar, but not identical, foundations. Inconsistent preferences are rooted in individual values, EU attitudes, and political cues, as well as TTIP partner heuristics. Last, the findings indicate that individual values and contextual perceptions of the US are also driving the observed inconsistencies in trade preferences among Europeans.
These results highlight important policy implications for, among others, both Member States and European policy makers.

Further information

Full Technical Report analysing European public opinion regarding TTIP and free trade


Publication date
8 October 2019