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The EU's Choice of Regulatory Venues for Trade Negotiations: A Tale of Agency Power?


  • I wish to thank Andreas Dür, Hubert Zimmermann, the participants of the Syracuse Workshop on ‘The EU in International Trade Negotiations’ and two anonymous referees for their valuable comments. The author acknowledges support of the NCCR International Trade Regulation of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Manfred Elsig
World Trade Institute
Hallerstrasse 6
CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland


This article focuses on the EU's strategy for choosing regulatory venues to negotiate trade agreements. It analyses the existence of a clear venue hierarchy since the late 1990s and the recent change leading to a blurring of any clear preference for using bilateral, inter-regional or multilateral settings. The article challenges domestic explanations of the EU's choice of venue, stressing the autonomy of the Commission as a major factor. Using a principal-agent framework, it shows that the Commission's agenda-setting powers, the existence of interest divergence among principals (e.g. Member States, business groups) and the multi-level system facilitate agency.