Promoting Labour Standards Through Trade: Normative Power or Regulatory State Europe?

Part of the Palgrave Studies in European Union Politics book series (PSEUP)


Since the beginning of the millennium, the European Union (EU) has committed itself to promoting the social dimension of globalization. European policy-makers argue that the ‘European social model’ should be promoted and that basic labour standards should be advanced in the world through a broad range of external activities (Orbie and Tortell 2008). This chapter addresses the EU’s contribution to a social globalization through its most powerful external instrument, namely its trade relations with developing countries. I first indicate why the focus on core labour standards and common commercial policies provides an interesting case study for analysing the Union’s normative power. The subsequent section elaborates on the social dimension of EU unilateral and bilateral trade policies from 1995 onwards. Then, the implications of this empirical case are considered from a Normative Power Europe (NPE) approach, arguing that the Union’s principles, and to some extent also its activities, do indeed increasingly correspond with what would be expected from a normative power, but that its normative impact remains unclear. In conclusion, I problematize the link between the EU’s institutional set-up as a ‘regulatory state’ and the normative content of its trade policies, suggesting that NPE accounts should also consider the ideological dimension of Europe’s global role.


European Union World Trade Organization Trade Policy International Labour Organization International Labour Organization Convention 
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© Jan Orbie 2011

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