Skip to main content
Log in

Conflicts of sovereignty over EU trade policy: a new constitutional settlement?

  • Original Article
  • Published:
Comparative European Politics Aims and scope


This paper investigates whether the politicization of a new generation of trade agreements has led to the transformation of EU trade policy. It provides a qualitative study of multilevel contention based on sources from civil society and the parliamentary archives in Belgium, Germany, and the European Union concerning the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and three subsequent agreements concluded by the EU with Japan, Vietnam, and Singapore. We argue that, far beyond mere institutional disputes, the contention surrounding CETA has epitomized two conflicting visions of sovereignty: on the one hand, a vision where national executives qua states share sovereignty under the auspices of the European Commission, and on the other hand, a claim to reassert popular sovereignty (and the channelling thereof by parliaments) in a multilevel fashion. We demonstrate that the strengthening of the latter vision has been limited as the empowerment of parliaments was not sustained when civil society’s mobilization waned. The EU institutions have successfully curtailed the category of mixed agreements thus limiting the involvement of national and regional parliaments. CETA was a climax in the politicization of trade yet failed to bring about a new constitutional settlement that enhances the popular component of sovereignty in the EU.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Aldrin, P., and N. Hubé. 2016. The european union, a stakeholders’ democracy from participationism laboratories to democratic experiments. Gouvernement Et Action Publique 2 (2): 125–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Banks, M. 2016 Wallonia rejection of CETA a “game changer” for EU decision-making. The Parliament Magazine, 25 October

  • Bollen, J. 2018 The domestic politics of EU trade policy: The political-economy of CETA and anti-dumping in Belgium and the Netherlands, PhD thesis, Ghent University, Belgium

  • Bollen, Y., F. De Ville, and N. Gheyle. 2020. From Nada to Namur: National parliaments’ involvement in EU trade politics and the case of Belgium. In The multilevel politics of trade, ed. J. Broschek and P. Goff, 256–278. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Bundesverfassungsgericht, 2016 Applications for a preliminary injunction in the “CETA” proceedings unsuccessful. Press Release No. 71/2016 of 13 October 2016

  • Caiani, M., and P. Graziano. 2018. Europeanisation and social movements: the case of the Stop TTIP campaign. European Journal of Political Research 57: 1031–1055.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Conrad, M., and A. Oleart. 2020. Framing TTIP in the wake of the Greenpeace leaks: agonistic and deliberative perspectives on frame resonance and communicative power. Journal of European Integration 42 (4): 527-545.

  • Crespy, A. 2016. Welfare markets in europe: the democratic challenge of european integration. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Crespy, A., and L. Parks. 2017. The connection between parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition in the EU From ACTA to the financial crisis. Journal of European Integration 39 (4): 453–467.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crum, B. J. J., and J. E. Fossum. 2013. Conclusion: Towards a democratic multilevel parliamentary field? In Practices of Inter-Parliamentary Coordination in International Politics. The European Union and Beyond, ed. B. J. J. Crum, and J. E. Fossum, 251–268 (ECPR - Studies in European Political Science). ECPR Press.

  • Culpepper, P. 2011. Quiet politics and business power. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • D’Erman, V. 2020. Mixed competences and ‘second generation’ trade agreements: a consideration of EU disintegration. Political Research Exchange 2 (1): 1806003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dahl Martinsen, K. 2019. Defeating TTIP: The French and German parliaments compared. J Transatlant Stud 17: 463–480.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • De Bièvre, D. 2018. The paradox of weakness in european trade policy: contestation and resilience in CETA and TTIP negotiations. The International Spectator 53 (3): 70–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • De Bièvre, D., and A. Dür. 2005. Constituency interests and delegation in european and american trade policy. Comparative Political Studies 38 (10): 1271–1296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • De Bièvre, D., and S. Gstöhl. 2018. The trade policy of the european union. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • De Bièvre, D., P. Garcia-Duran, L.J. Eliasson, and O. Costa. 2020. Editorial: politicization of EU trade policy across time and space. Politics and Governance 8 (1): 239–242.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • De Putte, L., F. de Ville, J. Orbie (2014) The European Parliament’s New Role in Trade Policy: Turning power into impact. CEPS Special Report 89, , accessed 18 November 2021

  • Delimatsis, P. 2017. TTIP, CETA and TiSA Behind Closed Doors: Transparency in the EU Trade Policy. In Mega-regional trade agreements: CETA, TTIP and TiSA: new orientations for eu external economic relations, ed. S. Griller, W. Obwexer, and E. Vranes, 216–246. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Della Porta, D. 2007. The global justice movement: an introduction. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Democracy international 2014 European Commission Rejects ECI “Stop TTIP”/, accessed 18 November 2021.

  • Der Loo, G. and Pelkmans, J. 2016 Does Wallonia’s veto of CETA spell the beginning of the end of EU trade policy? CEPS Commentary, 20 October,, accessed 18 November 2021

  • Desierto, D. 2016 Namur declaration of 5 December 2016: An EU-values driven path to negotiating and concluding economic and trade agreements, accessed 18 November 2021. Blog of the Eur J Int Law,

  • De Ville, F., and G. Siles-Brügge. 2017. Why TTIP is a game-changer and its critics have a point. Journal of European Public Policy 24 (10): 1491–1505.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Drieghe, L., J. Orbie, D. Potjomkina, and J. Shahin. 2021. Participation of civil society in EU trade policy making: how inclusive is inclusion? New Political Economy.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dür, A., and D. De Bièvre. 2007. Inclusion without influence? NGOs in european trade policy. Journal of Public Policy 27 (01): 79–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • EC Factsheet (2013): Transparency in EU trade negotiations. European parliament, (2020) EU-Canada A comprehensive economic and trade agreement. Legislative Train Schedule,, accessed 18 November 2021.

  • Gheyle, N. 2019. Trade policy with the lights on. Brussels: ASP.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gheyle, N., and F. de Ville. 2017. How much is enough? explaining the continuous transparency conflict in TTIP. Politics and Governance 5 (3): 16–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gheyle, N. Rone, J. 2020 Beyond social movement-centrism: Conflictual cooperation and the politicization of TTIP in Germany, forthcoming in German Politics.

  • Héritier, A., C. Moury, M. Meissner, and M. Scholler. 2019. European parliament ascendant: parliamentary strategies of self-empowerment in the EU. London: Palgrave.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Hübner, K., A.-S. Deman, and T. Balik. 2017. EU and trade policy-making: the contentious case of CETA. Journal of European Integration 39 (7): 843–857.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jabko, N. 2020. Sovereignty matters. The mainstreaming of populist politics in the European Union. Reseach in Political Sociology 27: 149–173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jančić, D. 2017. TTIP and legislative‒executive relations in EU trade policy. West European Politics 40 (1): 202-221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kleimann, D. Kubek, G. 2016 After the ‘CETA drama,’ toward a more democratic EU trade policy. Politico. 1 December.

  • Leblond, P., and C. Viju-Miljusevic. 2019. EU trade policy in the twenty-first century: Change, continuity and challenges. Journal of European Public Policy 26 (12): 1836–1846.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Longo, E. 2019. The european citizens’ initiative: too much democracy for EU polity? German Law J 20 (2): 181–200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Maggi, G., and R. Ossa. 2021. The political economy of deep integration. Annual Rev Econom 13 (1): 19–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Magnette, P. 2017. CETA. Quand l’Europe déraille. Waterloo: Editions Luc Pire.

    Google Scholar 

  • Meissner, K. 2016. Democratizing EU external relations: the european parliament’s informal role in SWIFT, ACTA, and TTIP. European Foreign Affairs Review 21 (2): 269–288.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meissner, K., and M.G. Schoeller. 2019. Rising despite the polycrisis? The European Parliament’s strategies of self-empowerment after Lisbon. Jounal of European Public Policy 26 (7): 1075–1093.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meunier, S. 2007. Managing globalization? The EU in international trade negotiations. Journal of Common Market Studies 45 (4): 905–926.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morgan, S. 2017 Singapore trade deal cannot be concluded by EU alone, CJEU rules. Euractiv. 16 May.

  • Oleart, A. 2021. Framing TTIP in the european public spheres: towards an empowering dissensus for EU integration. London: Palgrave.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Oliver, C., Burchard, H., Marks, S., 2016 How the EU threw away its trade powers. Politico. 19 October.

  • Pinz, A., 2019 Parliamentary control of EU international treaty-making: partisan perspectives. Forlaget politica.

  • Pollack, M. 2017. The new, new sovereigntism (or, how the europe union became disenchanted with international law and defiantly protective of its domestic legal order). In Concepts on international law in Europe and the United States, ed. C. Giorgetti and G. Verdirame. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Roederer-Rynning, C. 2017. Parliamentary assertion and deep integration: the European parliament in the CETA and TTIP negotiations. Cambridge Reviews Internationsl Affairs 30 (5–6): 507–526.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Roederer-Rynning, C., and M. Kallestrup. 2017. National parliaments and the new contentiousness of trade. J Eur Integrat 39 (7): 811–825.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rone, J. 2018. Contested international agreements, contested national politics: how the radical left and the radical right opposed TTIP in four European countries. London Review of International Law 6 (2): 233–253.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rone, J. 2020. Contesting austerity and free trade in the eu. protest diffusion in complex media and political arenas. London: Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Siles-Brugge, G., and M. Strange. 2020. National autonomy or transnational solidarity? using multiple geographic frames to politicize EU trade policy. Politics Governance 8 (1): 277–289.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • JEFTA Stoppen (2021) Abgeordnete anmailen - JEFTA stoppen!, accessed 18 November 2021

  • Trading Together Declaration (2016) Trading Together Declaration., accessed 18 November 2021.

  • Tsebelis, G. 1995. Conditional agenda-setting and decision-making inside the European parliament. The Journal of Legislative Studies 1 (1): 65–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Parlement Wallon (2016) Résolution sur l’Accord économique et commercial global, 25 April 2016, 212, n°4.

  • Weisskircher, M. 2020. The european citizens’ initiative: mobilization strategies and consequences. Political Studies 68 (3): 797–815.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Young, A. 2016. Not your parents’ trade politics: the transatlantic trade and investment partnership negotiations. Review of International Political Economy 23 (3): 345–378.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Young, A. 2017a. The politics of deep integration. Cambridge Review of International Affairs 30 (5–6): 453–463.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Young, A.R. 2017b. European trade policy in interesting times. Jounal of European Integration 39 (7): 909–923.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Amandine Crespy.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Crespy, A., Rone, J. Conflicts of sovereignty over EU trade policy: a new constitutional settlement?. Comp Eur Polit 20, 314–335 (2022).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: