International Trade policy

Trade as Foreign policy instrument

The EU, lacking proper foreign policy competences, is particularly active in leveraging its market power to obtain other objectives beyond trade. This is reflected in the inclusion of a plethora of clauses in trade agreements concluded by the EU ranging from human rights to illicit drugs and from to migration to sustainable development.

Much of these clauses are, however, not enforceable and rely on dialogue or soft form of arbitration to ensure compliance. A central question is thus to what extent the EU can pursue an ambitious foreign policy agenda through its common commercial policy? Over the last decades, calls for a less naïve and more assertive approach have been recurrent, yet it mostly remained aspirational discourse with limited consequence. The geo-political turn of the Von der Leyen Commission seems to suggest that this time would be different.

The decline of the transatlantic relation under US president Trump, the escalation of disputes with China, and the on-going tensions with Russia since the Ukraine crisis have -at least discursively- triggered a change of tone. But can the EU also walk the walk?

(EU) trade governance

Globalisation creates winners and losers. The challenge for policy-makers is to balance the legitimate interests of the affected parties. Whether the resulting policy is considered legitimate depends a lot on the process by which it came into existence. And precisely this (alleged) lack of accountability in the formation of (EU) trade policy has recurrently inspired mass mobilization against trade agreements.

The main focus of my research is the study of EU trade policy-making process. While the Commission is in the sole negotiator, a central role is given to the two main legislative institutions: the Council and the European Parliament. Their role and influence is central to grant EU decisions (input) legitimacy. But do member states in the Council still have the (administrative) capacity to oversee contemporary trade negotiations? How has the European Parliament used its veto-powers since the implementation of the Lisbon treaty? And should (sub-)national parliaments have a greater say in the ratification of trade agreements? These are but a few questions, I have explored in my research.

Recently, I started to broaden my focus and explore the tensions between the different policy modes in trade governance. When we intend to use trade as a strategic foreign policy instrument (e.g. trade sanctions) we expect radically opposite governance characteristics than when we are discussing trade as a regulatory policy (think e.g. about food standards). Whereas the former expects secrecy, swift response, and a limited scope for domestic deliberation; for the latter transparency, due process, and extensive deliberation and participation are desired. When trade policy needs to meet different policy objectives, tensions are likely to emerge in the applied governance mode. The public backlash that we observed in the wake of the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) reflect such tensions.