The European Union in International Trade Governance (EU Research Training Network "Dynamics and Obstacles of European Governance")

Research question/goal: 

At the Mannheim node of the European Union Research Training Network (RTN) “Dynamics and Obstacles of European Governance” coordinated by Christine Neuhold at the University of Maastricht, we have examined the external relations of the European Union (EU) in the field of international trade governance. The research aim of Andreas Dür and Dirk De Bièvre has been to analyse the European Union in international trade relations, both with respect to its internal decision making processes, and with respect to its acting within international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Research was clustered around two sets of questions.The first set of questions has consisted of the following. What is the nature of the European Union’s institutional framework for trade policy making and what effects does it have on policy outcomes? To gain leverage on that question, we undertook a systematic comparison of trade policy institutions in the European Union and those in the United States. Our objective was to uncover the determinants of the delegation of trade policy powers from principals to executive agents which we have witnessed in both trading entities over the last half century. In addition, we wondered how the principals (the EU Council of Ministers and the US Congress) assure themselves that their agents defend their preferences. Our answer to these questions has been that legislators try and satisfy heterogeneous preferences by delegating the provision of foreign market access for exporters and protection for import-competing interests to executive agents. Principals accompany this delegation with mechanisms to control the actions of these agents to avoid concentrated losses for either constituency and in order to maintain the flow of resources from lobbying. This research result was published in the 2005 December issue of Comparative Political Studies.Our research also demonstrated that although veto player theory would suggest that a political system such as the EU, in which many players can assume the role of veto player, should be crippled by deadlock, the EU has been astonishingly successful in finding a common stance on trade policy matters. To explain this finding, we argued that the institutional features of the EU offset the status quo bias introduced by a large number of veto players by facilitating issue linkages. Such linkages connect two or more policy issues and thus allow for agreements even if on an individual issue at least one internal actor would use its veto power to block a move away from the status quo.The second set of questions has focused on the influence of the so-called “new” or non-trade issues on international trade governance. These include, amongst others, intellectual property rights, health regulation, international standards, social and environmental standards, developmental policy, fields of public policy in which WTO member states have engaged in international negotiations with varying success. We have examined the question why the EU has sought new regulation on these non-trade concerns in the WTO rather than within other specialised UN-agencies or international agreements. Has the binding 3rd party adjudication combined as it is with the possibility of trade retaliation, enhanced the credibility of agreements concluded under the World Trade Organisation? With respect to these questions, we examined the positions and strategies of the European Union as one of the major proponents of the introduction of non-trade concerns in the multilateral trading system.Apart from the regular training and research workshops and publications, one of the deliverables of the Mannheim RTN node has been the preparation of a book edited by Dirk De Bièvre and Christine Neuhold, with contributions by all RTN researchers.

Fact sheet

European Commission
2002 to 2005
Data Sources: 
Secondary literature (including historical, legal, and econo
Geographic Space: 
European Union, United States, WTO member states



De Bièvre, Dirk, and Christine Neuhold (Eds.) (2007): Dynamics and Obstacles of European Governance. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. more