The EU's trade strategy shift from multilateralism to bilateralism. A case study on TTIP

Master's Thesis, 2017

60 Pages, Grade: sehr gut



Foreign commercial policy represents a major domain of European integration and an exclusive policy competence for the European Union. The strategy, focus and practical approach of this EU trade policy has been continuously adapted to the new circumstances in an ever more globalised world economy. Thus, the EU uses its foreign trade policy not just for mere economic ends but also as a tool to strengthen its global political influence.

Having been a champion of multilateral trade negotiations in the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) throughout the 1990s, the has EU changed this strategic orientation by the mid-2000s shifting its trade policy focus from a multilateral to a bilateral strategy and initiated preferential free trade agreements (FTA) with countries and regions all over the world. Among them, the one with the largest size was the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States of America, launched in 2013.

Given the huge importance of the EU as a player in global trade, it seems relevant to examine from a political scientific perspective what have been the main reasons, drivers and motivations behind this enormous policy shift. I argue that external factors, domestic interests and institutional dynamics have collectively contributed to the reorientation of EU trade policy from multi- to bilateralism.

I will test this hypothesis by means of three theoretical approaches: neorealism as a systemic theory, liberalism as a theory with a domestic focus and institutionalism to examine the role of the most important EU institution in trade policy, the European Commission.

In order to get a more profound analysis of the main actors and motivations as driving forces of EU trade policy, I will furthermore use a case study on the, both in ambition and size, unrivalled bilateral Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as it, due to its sheer economic and political impact on the both partners involved but also on the rest of the world, provides best significant insights of processes on all three levels of analysis of this paper.

The key finding of this paper is that indeed all three level of analysis - systemic, domestic and institutional - have each a valuable explanatory power elucidating why the EU has embraced a gradually more bilateral approach in its trade policy. Yet, they cannot be seen separately from each other but mutually influence each other. In a nutshell, the global power shift for the benefit of emerging powers and to the detriment of Europe in combination with strong economic interest groups within the EU seeking for market access all over the world as well as self-interests, norms and processes within the European Commission have altogether contributed to the change of course in EU trade policy towards bilateralism.


Trade Policy

European Union Bilateralism

Multilateralism Neorealism Liberalism


Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Table of Contents



List of Abbreviations

1 The bilateral shift in EU trade policy, TTIP and its scientific relevance
1.1 Research topic, relevance and methodology
1.2 EU trade strategy: from bilateralism to multilateralism and back
1.3 TTIP: the climax of EU trade bilateralism?

2 Neorealism - a structural approach to international relations with states as unitary actors
2.1 Terms, assumptions and key actors of neorealism
2.2 A neorealist approach to the bilateral shift of EU trade policy
2.3 A neorealist explanation of TTIP

3 Commercial Liberalism - Economic interests and preferences as the main driver of international politics
3.1 Terms, assumptions and key actors of liberalism
3.2 A liberal approach to the bilateral shift of EU trade policy
3.3 A liberal explanation of TTIP

4 Institutionalism - Institutions as key actors with self-interest and ‘path- dependency’
4.1 Terms, assumptions and key actors of Institutionalism
4.2 An institutionalist approach to the bilateral shift of EU trade policy
4.3 An institutionalist explanation of TTIP

5 Conclusion
5.1 Theoretical Conclusions
5.2 Empirical Conclusions
5.3 Broader theoretical implications and policy recommendations


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The EU's trade strategy shift from multilateralism to bilateralism. A case study on TTIP
College of Europe
sehr gut
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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945 KB
ttip, Trade Policy, EU, Europäische Union, Handelspolitik, Multilateralism, Neorealismus, Kommission, Geopolitik
Quote paper
Benedikt Weingärtner (Author), 2017, The EU's trade strategy shift from multilateralism to bilateralism. A case study on TTIP, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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