Conflicts of sovereignty over EU trade policy: a new constitutional settlement?
This paper investigates whether the politicization of a new generation of trade agreements has led to the transformation of EU trade policy. It provides a qualitative study of multilevel contention based on sources from civil society and the parliamentary archives in Belgium, Germany, and the European Union concerning the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and three subsequent agreements concluded by the EU with Japan, Vietnam, and Singapore. We argue that, far beyond mere institutional disputes, the contention surrounding CETA has epitomized two conflicting visions of sovereignty: on the one hand, a vision where national executives qua states share sovereignty under the auspices of the European Commission, and on the other hand, a claim to reassert popular sovereignty (and the channelling thereof by parliaments) in a multilevel fashion. We demonstrate that the strengthening of the latter vision has been limited as the empowerment of parliaments was not sustained when civil society’s mobilization waned. The EU institutions have successfully curtailed the category of mixed agreements thus limiting the involvement of national and regional parliaments. CETA was a climax in the politicization of trade yet failed to bring about a new constitutional settlement that enhances the popular component of sovereignty in the EU.