Europe’s Trade Policy: Can a Phoenix Rise From the Ashes?

Written by | Monday, December 19th, 2016

Sebastian Dullien (European Council on Foreign Relations)

European trade policy is currently undergoing a crisis. There is only a small chance of saving both the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being negotiated with the United States and the final ratification of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada is still uncertain as well. Although the powers of the European Commission (EC) in the context of the negotiation of international trade agreements have been broadened after the Lisbon Treaty, the Commission’s efforts at their enforcement appear to be rather weak.

Had the Commission engaged civil society in the individual Member States in the negotiations and had it recognized the legitimate concerns of some of its elements, the EU would not have to face such failures. For example, the criticism regarding the provisions of investor protection in CETA was justified, but the Commission said that this was not the case and that the current text of the agreement was completely satisfactory. The Commission found it no longer important to question the issues of investor protection.

So, how to solve the problematic question of European trade policy? When we consider its current worrying state, there are several steps that the EU can take. First, the Commission and the European Council should quit all TTIP negotiations, which can no longer be saved. Second, CETA should be ratified because otherwise the EU would have great difficulties in negotiating future trade agreements with other countries. Third, the Commission needs to be more restrained and more forthcoming towards its critics during the negotiations of trade agreements with third parties. At the same time, it should also rethink its strategy of signing bilateral agreements and try to carry through more multilateral negotiations.

The fourth recommendation is the inclusion of other stakeholders, such as various non-governmental organizations and representatives of civil society, in drafting positions in trade negotiations. The Commission should also focus on improving the social conditions in the Member States and especially on reducing unemployment. When this objective is achieved, and by that the confidence in the EU institutions boosted, the Commission may again set out to propose ambitious trade agreements.

The way the conflict over TTIP has escalated put trade policy in the limelight. However, it is very unlikely that important trade agreements will be negotiated in the near future without a thorough analysis and effective criticism. Now, it’s time to duly reconsider the whole situation regarding the problems associated with the negotiations of such trade agreements.


(The study can be downloaded here)

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