Internal EU politics

Trade powers central in Commission view of EU future

Trade policy is an important aspect of the EU Commission’s freshly released White Paper on the future of Europe. In the Commission’s vision, a revamped EU would also be a more effective trade agreement negotiator.


The Juncker Commission has put forward this vision for the future of the crisis-stricken European block as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the EU and the bloc celebrates its 60 years of existence at the end of March 2017.


The paper also comes at a time in which trade policy, a central competence of the EU, is under attack from trade sceptic groups, and undergoing pressures to be ‘renationalised’. Disputes over power divisions in trade deals have marred the ratification of trade agreements – as shown in the protracted process ahead of the signature of the CETA deal with Canada in the autumn 2016.


The piece presents its diagnosis of the EU’s current situation and highlights a few possible ways forward. The document is not prescriptive but sees five possible scenarios for the EU27 member states. In these scenarios, the Commission presents what it sees are the pros and cons of the various options.


The Commission sees five possible ways forward for the EU: “Carrying on”, “Nothing but the single market”, “Those who want more do more”, “Doing less more efficiently”, and “Doing much more together”. Possibilities foreseen include anything from repatriating selected powers to the member states to greater integration, notably in areas such as migration and defence.


In four out of five scenarios, the EU sees a role for “progressive trade agreements”. In one scenario – “nothing but the single market” – the EU sees a trading bloc in which the EU’s role in harmonising product and services standards is diminished, and the free movement of people and services “is not fully guaranteed”. In this scenario, “the EU27 fails to conclude new trade agreements as member states are unable to agree on common priorities or some block ratification”, the report reads.


In the scenario “doing less more efficiently”, the Commission does not count trade powers as those that could possibly be repatriated. On the contrary, in this scenario trade would “exclusively be dealt with at EU level”. Note that the Commission also does not envisage a possible repatriation of powers in the Common Agricultural Policy – a regular sore point in the EU’s external trade relations and negotiations.


In a joint communiqué on the Commission’s White Paper the German and French governments hail the document as “extremely useful”. Paris and Berlin agree: “the EU is much more than a common market. It is founded on common values, solidarity and the rule of law”. The two capitals also say : “without putting into question what we have achieved, we must also find means to take into account the different levels of ambition of the member states”.


Member states will discuss the paper during a summit in Rome on 25 March 2017.

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