The European Union’s Trade Policy Response to the Crisis: Paradigm lost or reinforced?

Jan Orbie, Ferdi De Ville


Abstract: This paper critically examines the European Union’s (EU) trade policy response to the global financial and economic crisis. Contrary to what would be expected, we find that the EU’s neoliberal trade paradigm, as frankly presented in the 2006 Global Europe strategy, has not been delegitimized. The neoliberal (dis-)course has even been reinforced. First, we theorize on the conditions for paradigmatic change and the importance of framing in the delegitimization phase. Second, we analyze the Commission’s framing of the crisis, amounting to (i) a downplaying of the nature of the crisis to a crisis in the financial subsystem of global capitalism; (ii) an emphasis on the danger of protectionism that would worsen the crisis and lead to a 1930s “Great Depression” scenario; and (iii) advocation for further trade liberalization as a contribution to European and global recovery. Third, we show that this has been translated in practice such as through the limited use of anti-dumping measures and ever more ambitious trade agreements as with Korea. Finally, we explain why the crisis has not led to a delegitimization of the existing trade paradigm, pointing to the absence of a workable alternative paradigm, the role of European social democratic parties and the labour movement, and the interests of transnational business.


political science; trade policy; international trade; European social model; social democracy; trade unions; European Commission; protectionism; liberalization; globalization; discourse

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