This article examines how the EU’s ‘conflicted power’ in trade has played out within its preferential trade agreement (PTA) strategies with third parties. It does this by providing an overview of how approaches to the EU’s external trade policies have evolved over time, especially since the end of the Cold War. Tracing changes in discourse in the EU’s consolidated trade policy demonstrates how the policy objectives have evolved from what could be characterised as a soft and even normative power to a much more realist one, attempting to safeguard its position in the international economic order. Notwithstanding these changes, explained by a combination of international context and ideational preferences, an underlying overall continuity has remained in terms of the main economic interests to be realised through trade policy, which presents a portrait of the EU as a rational and realist (if sometimes conflicted) actor in the global economy.
European Union trade, idealism, realism, free trade agreements
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