History Matters: Institutional Influence in EU Trade Negotiations

Friday, July 14, 2017
JWS - Stevenson Lecture Theatre (University of Glasgow)
Magdalena Frennhoff Larsen , Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster
Having negotiated and concluded preferential trade agreements with most countries or regions of the world over the last 40 years, the Commission has developed a strong bureaucratic capacity and a strong institutional memory. This paper identifies two inter-related history-bound features of the Commission - it uses previous Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) as templates, and with every new FTA it is likely to set a precedent for the future. These features, though which the Commission acts according to a path-dependent logic of bound rationality, contribute to making the Commission into a bureaucratically rigid and powerful actor. From a principal-agent perspective it would be logical to assume that this bureaucratic rigidity is likely to hamper the Member States’ ability to exercise influence over the negotiation process. However, drawing on examples from EU FTA negotiations with South Africa, Mexico, South Korea and Canada, this paper demonstrates how Member States, and more recently also the European Parliament, in fact are able to influence the Commission by tapping into its history-bound features and acting strategically to push through their own interests. The paper contributes to our understanding of how EU institutional preferences and behaviour are embedded in a historical process.