A way out of the Brexit morass?
09 May 2019 – 14:15 | No Comment

Brexit-bound Britain will participate in this month’s European Parliament (EP) election, unless UK prime minister, Theresa May, and opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, manage to push the thrice-rejected EU withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons …

Read the full story »

Energy & Environment

Circular Economy

Climate Change


Home » Focus

Observations on EU Trade Politics more than Twenty Months into the Lisbon Treaty

Submitted by on 16 Sep 2011 – 12:13

Vital Moreira MEPVital Moreira MEP, Chair, European Parliament International Trade Committee

The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on December 1, 2009, has brought fundamental changes to the scope and the decision-making process of the Union’s common commercial policy. Its scope was enlarged beyond goods, services and the commercial aspects of intellectual property to include protection of foreign direct investment, a competence that used to be in the hands of Member States. In terms of decision-making process, Parliament was given a tremendous boost: it now co-decides with the Council of the EU on the legislative framework for implementing trade policy and its consent is indispensable for the ratification of all international trade agreements in the areas covered by the EU’s common commercial policy. In addition, the European Commission is now legally obliged to inform the European Parliament on on-going negotiations with the same degree of detail that it provides to the Council of the EU, which allows Parliament to closely follow every negotiation and to take a stand when it feels it is necessary to do so.

These changes are politically impressive and institutionally far-reaching. Before the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, EU trade policy was defined mostly behind closed doors under the initiative of the European Commission and decision of the Council of the EU. Now, European trade policy has finally acquired a real parliamentary dimension that enhances transparent and democratic control on trade – and this is key, because trade ultimately filters down to the everyday life of the European citizens.

Above all, the changes brought by the Lisbon Treaty reinforce the Parliament’s profile as the EU’s only directly elected institution that legitimises European policy.

Back in December 2009, concerns emerged about the direct involvement of Parliament in a highly successful policy area of the European Union. Only half-convinced of the benefits of more transparency and democratisation of trade policy, many feared that the traditional ‘technocratic’ efficiency of this policy would be jeopardised; that the increased politicisation of trade policy would lead to a ‘US congress-like’ situation, where trade agreements and legislation are sometimes held hostage of particular interest groups.

More than twenty months into the Lisbon Treaty, I don’t think that these concerns are grounded. One can arguably say that the adoption of the EU-Korea FTA, one of the most ambitious deals ever concluded by the EU and also the Union’s first trade agreement with an Asian country, was the test of this new institutional framework. After having adopted a domestic safeguard legislation that protects the economic sectors most negatively affected by the deal, consent to the EU-Korea FTA was obtained in the European Parliament’s plenary session of February 2011 by an overwhelming majority of 465 votes in favour to 128 against.

With this agreement, it became clear that ambitious trade deals merit the support of a large pro-trade parliamentary coalition that includes the major political groups in the European Parliament.

Those who feared the new powers of Parliament and the increased politicisation of EU trade policy would be detrimental were proved wrong – we can deliver!  And we will certainly continue to do so.

It has been a challenge for everyone in Parliament, Commission and Council to adapt to the decision-making processes of the Lisbon Treaty. Inter-institutional relations have undergone major transformations in the past twenty months. My opinion is that, overall, we have handled this transition successfully. Of course this is yet to be completed: there are at least two major files pending in relation to the implementation of the Treaty, namely the ‘omnibus’ regulations and the ‘grandfathering’ by the EU of the existing bilateral investment treaties that Member States have concluded over the past decades. These files will hopefully come to a close during the next twelve months, possibly during the Danish Presidency.

Other extremely important files that Parliament and the Council will be working on during the Danish Presidency include: the renewal of the Generalised System of Preferences, which provides developing countries duty-free or preferential access to the EU market; the ratification of FTAs with Colombia and Peru on the one hand, with Central America as a block on the other, along with the respective safeguard legislation.

The EU agenda on the trade front is very busy. After all, the EU is constitutionally committed to an active trade policy: article 206 of the Lisbon Treaty states that “the Union shall contribute, in the common interest, to the harmonious development of world trade, the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and on foreign direct investment, and the lowering of customs and other barriers”.

The next twelve months will therefore be very demanding, and I wish the best of luck to the current Polish Presidency and to the upcoming Danish Presidency of the Council. From Parliament’s side, they can rest assured that we will seek to work with them in the most responsible, efficient and loyal manner.