Missing the Mark? Nunn School Professor Alasdair Young Assesses European Trade Policy in a Time of Anti-Globalism

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By Michael Pearson

The European Union misjudged the impact of anti-globalist populism on the politicization of  trade policy, and also missed the mark in its policy response to the furor, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs Professor Alasdair Young concludes in an analysis recently published in the Journal of European Public Policy.

Young argues that while the resulting, mostly minor, policy shifts would not likely prevent a repeat of the mid-decade uproar over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the changes could still succeed in tamping down future uproar over trade.

In the paper, Young argues that a wave of popular opposition to the TTIP led European Commission officials to overgeneralize the impact of anti-globalist sentiment on trade policy.

Young points out that most populist political parties did not campaign on trade concerns, and that trade deals negotiated with Japan, Vietnam, and Singapore around the same time went largely unnoticed. Thus, instead of a broad uprising against globalism, “politicization was the result of a unique civil society campaign against a specific negotiation with highly distinctive characteristics” — the TTIP.

“While the TTIP negotiation was politicized, it was a highly atypical negotiation in terms (of) both its ambition and the power and character of the negotiating partner,” according to Young. “The extent of politicization with respect to the TTIP, therefore, is likely to be the exception, not the rule.”

As a result, “the politicization of trade in Europe may have been transient.”

Nevertheless, the EU announced reforms to its trade strategy in the wake of the collapse of the TTIP. Most of those proposals were slightly modified versions of longstanding EU policies, with more significant changes related to investment and transparency, but these reflected practices adopted during the TTIP negotiations.

The resulting largely minor shifts are unlikely to stave off a repeat of the popular opposition to a deal similar to the TTIP, but, he says, such a deal is unlikely to reemerge anytime soon, and the increased transparency and other reforms enshrined in the “balanced and progressive” trade policy adopted after the uproar may be enough to prevent further politicization from taking hold.

“To the extent that the problem of politicization was exaggerated, an emphasis on continuity in policy might well be appropriate,” Young wrote. “In this case, two wrongs may make a right, at least in terms of the narrow objective of containing the politicization of EU trade policy.”

Young directs the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The center, a Jean Monnet Center of Excellence, seeks to promote and disseminate policy research on Europe and its relationship with the United States. It also serves as focal point for the European diplomatic corps and transatlantic business community.

Young’s paper, “Two Wrongs Make a Right? The Politicization of Trade Policy and European Trade Strategy,” appears in the December issue of the Journal of European Policy.

The Nunn School is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.


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  • Created By: mpearson34
  • Created: 12/20/2019
  • Modified By: mpearson34
  • Modified: 12/20/2019


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