'We Need to Talk About Lisbon': The Capacity of the European Union as a Global Trade Actor

By Rob May
Interstate - Journal of International Affairs
2012, Vol. 2011/2012 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |

Section 2: Talking About Lisbon: The Capacity of the CCP after Lisbon

The Treaty of Lisbon is a list of amendments to be made to the founding treaties of the European Union (the Treaty of Maastricht, and Treaty establishing the Europe an Communities) with the effect of updating them into two replacement treaties: the Treaty on European Union (TEU), and Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) respectively. Policies and functions of the EU were modified and updated in several areas to fulfil the provisions set out in the amendments, and there was a specific focus to develop the EU’s “actorness” in relation to the wider world.64 This section details the changes that the Lisbon Treaty made with reference to the CCP, and categorises them according to the amendments they make to the capacity of the EU to act.

Shared Commitment to Overarching Values

Article 1(4) and Article 1(24) of the Lisbon Treaty directly give the values that the EU is to uphold, and specify that the EU’s external action must conform to these values:

‘In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall uphold and promote its values and interests and contribute to the protection of its citizens. It shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular the rights of the child, as well as to the strict observance and the development of international law, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter.’65

‘The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.’66

Further in the Treaty, the CCP is explicitly confirmed as a policy which must conform to the values set out above:

‘The common commercial policy shall be conducted in the context of the principles and objectives of the Union’s external action.’67

Domestic Legitimation of Decision-Making Processes, Priorities and Outcomes

A greater avenue for the input of the European Parliament was developed as a core tenet of the Lisbon Treaty in all policy areas, with the CCP as no exception.68

‘The European Parliament and the Council, acting by means of regulations in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, shall adopt the measures defining the framework for implementing the common commercial policy’69

This was further bolstered by another amendment in the Treaty, requiring the Council to adopt either after obtaining the consent of, or consulting, the EP.70 However, despite greater involvement of the EP in an attempt to strengthen the democratic credentials of the EU, there was a hitch in achieving the amendment’s aims in practice. The German Constitutional Court ruled that extending EP decision-making over all policy areas would achieve little more than a duplication of member state democratic procedures, and so the EU could never take over the democratic functions of states in certain policy areas regardless of the Lisbon amendments. In particular, the areas:

‘which shape the citizens’ living conditions… the private sphere of their own responsibility and of political and social security… as well as to political decisions that rely especially on cultural, historical and linguistic perceptions and which develop within public discourse in the party political and parliamentary sphere of public politics.’71

This ensured that national parliaments must still be retained and in fact are required to be involved in any decision- making procedure affecting the above-listed areas. This fact is dealt with in the Lisbon Treaty itself through the inclusion of a protocol on parliamentary involvement. 72

Ability to Identify Priorities and Formulate Policies

A greater role for the European Parliament in the CCP, while strengthening the democratic credentials of the EU, was believed by the then Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, to undermine the consistency, dedicated focus and strength of the policy.73 EU officials working in DG Trade, though, believed that the greater role for the Parliament would strengthen the Commission’s hand in international trade relations by further complicating the internal workings of the CCP as perceived by outsiders.74

In the Treaty itself, however, the EU’s role in the CCP, and the consistency of the policy, was strengthened by the wholesale transfer of exclusive competence over the CCP.75

‘The Union shall have exclusive competence in the following areas:

  • Customs Union;
  • The establishing of competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market;
  • Monetary policy for the member states whose currency is the Euro;
  • The conservation of marine biological resources under the Common Fisheries Policy;
  • Common Commercial Policy.’76

The EU was also granted full legal personality77 to act on par with member states in international relations under areas of exclusive competence. This allowed the EU to act unilaterally and multilaterally on behalf of its member states rather than in conjunction with them.78

The Lisbon Treaty also addressed the issues of coherency over which areas of trade it could and could not regulate by effectively supranationalising the voting procedures (i.e. formalising the use of QMV) in all areas, except those which could jeopardise the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe.79 The CCP was also crystallised as a function of the EU’s external relations by specific amendments of the Treaty of Lisbon.80

Availability of Policy Instruments

Several amendments strengthen the EU’s capacity to use CCP instruments in bilateral relations81 and multilateral relations.82 The extension of the CCP’s remit to unambiguously cover trade in goods, services and foreign direct investment also served to increase the capacity to use already existing policy instruments in these new areas.83


The Treaty of Lisbon has strengthened the EU’s Common Commercial Policy in some key ways. The previously vague values of the EU were clearly codified, while the structures for democratic legitimation were bolstered by greater inclusion in decision-making procedures, contributing directly to the development of the EU as a legitimate democratic body.84 Protocols for the inclusion of national parliaments into decision-making further strengthened this particular area of the EU’s capacity to act. The extension of exclusive competences over all trade sectors served to strengthen the coherence and consistency of the EU’s ability to identify priorities, formulate policies and use available policy instruments to achieve its CCP aims, while legal personality was granted to the EU serving to further strengthen its coherence as an actor.

However, the effect that these new developments in the EU’s capacity to act have had upon both its presence in the global economy, and the structural context in which it resides, has not yet been measured. The next logical step in analysing the “actorness” of the EU after the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon is to measure its presence and its context to assess whether the capabilities of the EU are still strong enough to enable it to act effectively.


  1. Mandelson, P. The Third Man: Life at the Heart of New Labour (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), pp. 393-95.
  2. Smith, M. ‘European Union External Relations’, in European Union Politics, edited by Michelle Cini and Nieves Pérez-Solórzano Borragán (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 226; Bretherton, Charlotte, and John Vogler. The European Union as a Global Actor, 2nd ed. (Oxon, Routledge, 2006), pp. 62- 65; Cameron, F. An Introduction to European Foreign Policy (Abingdon, Routledge, 2007), p. 9
  3. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, pp. 62-66.
  4. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, pp. 30-35.
  5. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 2.
  6. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 24.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., pp. 27-29
  9. Young, A. R. ‘External Economic Relations’, in European Politics, edited by Colin Hay and Anand Menon (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 387.
  10. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 63.
  11. Young, External Economic Relations, p. 388.
  12. Young, External Economic Relations, p. 392.
  13. Meunier, S. and Nicolaïdis, K. ‘The European Union as a Trade Power’, in International Relations and the European Union, edited by Christopher Hill, and Michael Smith (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 276.
  14. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 63.
  15. Ibid., p. 71.
  16. Ibid., pp. 69-70.
  17. Ibid., p. 73.
  18. Ibid., p. 73; Young, External Economic Relations, p. 389.
  19. Young, External Economic Relations, p. 389.
  20. Ibid., p. 391; Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 66.
  21. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 24.
  22. Ibid., pp. 30-31.
  23. Ibid., pp. 31-32.
  24. Ibid., pp. 33-35.
  25. Ibid., p. 30; European Union, ‘Treaty on European Union’ (Maastricht, European Union, 1992), Title I, Article B. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/treaties/dat/11992M/ htm/11992M.html (Accessed 13 December 2011).
  26. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 74.
  27. Young, External Economic Relations, p. 402.
  28. Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 276.
  29. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 66.
  30. Ibid., p. 71.
  31. Young, External Economic Relations, p. 402.
  32. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 67; Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 286.
  33. Young, External Economic Relations, p. 397.
  34. Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 286.
  35. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 69.
  36. Ibid.; Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 279.
  37. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 31.
  38. Kerremans, B. ‘Proactive Policy Entrepreneur or Risk Minimizer? A Principal-Agent Interpretation of the EU’s Role in the WTO’, in The European Union’s Roles in International Politics, edited by Ole Elgström and Michael Smith (Oxon, Routledge, 2006), p. 173; Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 278.
  39. Kerremans, Proactive Policy Entrepreneur or Risk Minimizer? p. 177.
  40. Ibid., p. 178.
  41. Ibid., p. 179.
  42. Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 286.
  43. Bretherton & Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 67.
  44. Ibid., p. 74.
  45. Ibid., p. 68.
  46. Ibid., pp. 79-80.
  47. Ibid., p. 67.
  48. Ibid., p. 62.
  49. Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 279.
  50. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, pp. 74-5.
  51. Ibid., pp. 34, 75.
  52. Ibid., pp. 74-5.
  53. Young, External Economic Relations, p. 392.
  54. Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, pp. 34, 76-78.
  55. Ibid., p. 73.
  56. Ibid., p. 66.
  57. Ibid., pp. 80-1.
  58. Ibid., p. 81.
  59. Ibid., p. 63.
  60. Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 287.
  61. Ibid., p. 279; Bretherton and Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 72.
  62. Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 278.
  63. Bretherton & Vogler, EU as a Global Actor, p. 71.
  64. European Union, ‘The Treaty at a Glance’, 20 April 2011. Available at: http://europa.eu/lisbon_treaty/glance/index_en.htm (Accessed December 13, 2011).
  65. European Union, ‘Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community’, C 306, (Brussels, Official Journal of the European Union, 2009), Article 1, Clause 4.
  66. Ibid., Article 1, Clause 24.
  67. Ibid., Article 2, Clause 158
  68. Chalmers, D., Davies, G. and Monti, G. European Union Law. Second ed. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 47; Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 281.
  69. EU, ‘Lisbon Treaty’, Article 2, Clause 158.
  70. EU, ‘Lisbon Treaty’, Article 2, Clause 173.
  71. Bundesverfassungsgericht Deutschland, ‘Gauweiler v Treaty of Lisbon‘, 2 BvE 2/08 Judgement of 30 June 2009.
  72. EU, ‘Lisbon Treaty’, Protocol on the role of national Parliaments in the European Union.
  73. Mandelson, The Third Man, p. 395.
  74. Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 281.
  75. Ibid., p. 281.
  76. EU, ‘Lisbon Treaty’, Article 2, Clause 12.
  77. Ibid., Article 1, Clause 35.
  78. Chalmers, Davies & Monti, EU Law, pp. 632-633.
  79. Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 281 ; EU, ‘Lisbon Treaty’, Article 2, Clause 158.
  80. EU, ‘Lisbon Treaty’, Article 2, Clause 112.
  81. Ibid., Article 2, Clauses 166-167.
  82. Ibid., Article 2, Clause 171.
  83. Meunier, EU as a Trade Power, p. 281 ; EU, Lisbon Treaty, Article 2, Clause 158.
  84. Duncan, G. ed. Democratic Theory and Practice (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1983, p. 9.

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