The strategic potential of EU external trade policy
In its "Strategic Agenda for the Union in Times of Change" for the period 2014 to 2019, the European Council identified the need to "maximize the EU's clout" in global affairs, notably by "ensuring consistency between Member States' and EU foreign policy goals and by improving coordination and coherence between the main fields of EU external action, such as trade (…) development and economic policies". One area which definitely promises maximised EU clout in global affairs is trade. Given the European Union's significant weight as the world's largest trading block, its external trade policies can be a major source of a reinforced European role as a global actor if they are strategically deployed and contribute to a broader, coherent foreign policy approach. EU trade policy has to find the right balance between promoting the EU's economic interests while also taking into account broader EU policy objectives (e.g. promotion of human rights, sustainability, interlinking climate and energy policy objectives, etc.). Such a balance is difficult to achieve and the EU has sometimes been criticised either for letting its economic interests prevail or for being naïve over conditionality in the international trade battles. Coherence between the EU's and Member States' trade policy should be ensured, as well as coherence between trade and other (external) policies. To reap the strategic potential of EU external trade policy, its current functioning, as well as its intended and unintended consequences, need to be fully understood from a multidisciplinary perspective, and forward-looking perspectives have to be developed on how to make it more effective.
Research under this topic should take stock of the European Union's and its Member States' bilateral and multilateral trade strategies and policies, comparing various regional and country-specific trade policy approaches and assessing the coherence and consistency of their objectives, strategies and instruments. Bilateral trade relations with key economic players such as the United States and China, but also developing countries from various continents should form part of such comparisons, alongside the Union's multilateral engagement in relevant international institutions, such as the World Trade Organization and its related negotiation processes and the G-20 summit as a major global economic forum. This analysis should in particular comprise detailed scrutiny of the coherence and consistency between the EU's trade policies and those of its Member States.
The results of these stock-taking should lay the foundation for an investigation of the coherence and consistency of trade policies with other EU external policies such as economic (e.g. security of energy supply, green growth), developmental (e.g. trade-related policy coherence for development), environmental (e.g. climate change mitigation, biodiversity), social and labour (e.g. international labour standards, cooperation on decent work) and human rights policies. Research should ultimately evaluate whether and how EU external trade policies can and do serve wider foreign policy objectives, identify the institutional, organisational and behavioural drivers of and obstacles to a coherent and effective strategic use of EU trade policy, and formulate propositions on how to combine trade and other external policies into a comprehensive European foreign policy. A comparative perspective, contrasting the EU's approach with the strategic use of trade policy by other major global players, could be envisaged.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting an EU contribution in the order of EUR 2.5 million would allow this specific topic to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
Research under this topic will lead to a set of novel insights into the evolving EU and Member States' bi- and multilateral trade strategies and their inter-linkages with other external policies, their coherence and effectiveness. Placing trade at its centre, it will revisit and innovate the debate on coherence and consistency in EU foreign policy so as to provide an understanding of whether and how trade can be utilized strategically in the context of broader EU foreign policy agendas and in support of its foreign and economic policy objectives. Based on these policy-relevant insights, it will formulate recommendations on the institutional, organisational and behavioural adaptations needed to reinforce the EU's clout in global affairs via enhanced coherence of its foreign policy.