What explains the European Union’s (EU) reluctance to include a legally enforceable social clause in trade agreements? Moreover, what explains the lack of coherence in its linkage policy across the multilateral, bilateral and unilateral levels? This article assesses the diversity of EU approaches towards trade and labour and argues that the conception of the European Union as a particular normative actor is not fully capable to grasp this diversity. Instead, the EU’s policies are contingent upon a generic cost-effectiveness calculation constrained by the internal and external context where decisions on labour standards have been taken. At the internal level, decision-making rules have sometimes directed trade-labour linkage policies to a ‘lowest common denominator’. At the external level, the EU’s decisions have been shaped by the perceptions and market power of negotiating partners. To prove its claim, the article explores the EU’s trade-labour linkage at the multilateral, bilateral and unilateral settings.
Trade policy, Labour Standards
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