Multistakeholderism in the European Union's trade policy-making: Analysing domestic advocay groups

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This dissertation is dedicated to multistakeholderism in European Union’s (EU) external trade policy, and specifically focuses on the Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs), which operate in the policy-implementation stage. It offers several conceptual instruments for a critically informed analysis of stakeholder participation, encompassing both the formal provisions and actual practices. It further demonstrates how these conceptual instruments apply in practice through an in-depth empirical analysis of three cases: the European Union, Georgia, and Peru.
The research puzzle behind this dissertation is the apparent mismatch between the EU’s attempts to increase stakeholders’ institutionalized engagement in its trade policy-making on the one hand, and the growing contestation of its trade deals on the other hand. We can assume that the contestation of the EU’s trade policy would be less intense, were the EU to engage the stakeholders in a more successful manner.
The research question is: How can we assess the EU’s approach to engaging stakeholders in its trade policy-making? This dissertation focuses specifically on Domestic Advisory Groups established in the framework of Trade and Sustainable Development chapters of the EU’s “new generation” free trade agreements. It adopts a two-fold approach to assessment: elaborating conceptual tools and applying them empirically. Specifically, there are two sub-questions: 1) How can we assess the inclusiveness of the Domestic Advisory Groups established in the framework of the EU’s FTAs? And 2) How can we assess the legitimacy of the Domestic Advisory Groups established in the framework of the EU’s FTAs?
The dissertation is comprised by four journal articles. Articles 1 and 3 develop conceptual instruments for assessing inclusiveness (according to researcher-defined criteria) and apply them in empirical studies of the EU DAGs and the Georgian DAG. In turn, articles 2 and 4 focus on the stakeholders’ perspectives, looking into the aspects of the DAGs that stakeholders do not consider legitimate. They look into the issues of resistance and meta-participation, and apply conceptual insights to studies of EU DAGs and the Peruvian “shadow DAG”.
Methodologically, the dissertation mostly relies on qualitative research, with the addition of a quantitative component in article 1. In total, more than 70 interviews have been conducted with stakeholders from both the EU and its partner countries. They have been complemented by extensive documentary analysis and, to some degree, participant observation. Additionally, article 1 partly relies on data from an online questionnaire, to which 41 EU DAG members responded.
In response to the first sub-question, article 1, “Participation of Civil Society in EU Trade Policy Making: How Inclusive is Inclusion?”, offers “inclusiveness ladder” as a conceptual tool for assessing the inclusiveness of the DAGs. According to our framework, only the lowest two levels of inclusiveness have been largely reached in the EU, namely, logistics and information sharing. The survey and our own analysis demonstrate that the EU DAGs face major shortcomings on the two upper levels: monitoring the trade agreements, and policy impact.
Article 3, “Inclusion in EU-Georgia Trade Relations: A Critical Institutionalist Analysis of the Georgian Domestic Advisory Group”, refines the conceptual framework for measuring inclusiveness of multistakeholder bodies and advances a bi-dimensional approach. Vertical inclusiveness refers to the DAG’s prominence in policy-making, while horizontal – to stakeholder presence in the DAG. This conceptual framework is applied to the case of Georgia, showing that the level of both vertical and horizontal inclusiveness that the Georgian DAG has been able to reach is medium to low. The article uses critical institutionalism to demonstrate how deeply entrenched political, economic and social inequalities in Georgia, often reinforced or enabled by the EU’s policies, contribute to this outcome.

In response to the second sub-question, article 2 focuses on the resistance of EU DAG members to the ways in which the DAGs are run by the European Commission. It develops a novel conceptual framework for analysing resistance. We find that EU DAG members resist multiple aspects of the mechanisms, and that this resistance is quite far-reaching, which means there is a significant level of discontent.
Article 4 studies the meta-participatory activities of Peruvian civil society stakeholders who have been dissatisfied with the government’s dysfunctional approach to consultations in the framework of the TSD chapter. It elaborates upon the concept of meta-participation – stakeholder activities that are aimed at changing the status quo of participation mechanisms and making them more legitimate in the eyes of the meta-participating stakeholders. The article discusses the Peruvian case as a bright example of meta-participation, and the potential impact of meta-participation on legitimacy.
The general conclusion from articles 1 and 3 is that the current setup of the DAGs is not favourable for horizontal nor for vertical inclusiveness, and the functioning of the DAGs shows that they have not been able to achieve a high level of inclusiveness in practice. The findings from article 2 and article 4 demonstrate that the DAGs analysed in these studies lack legitimacy in the eyes of many relevant stakeholders. On the basis of the conceptual tools developed in this dissertation and the four empirical studies, the overall response to the main research question, namely, “How can we assess the EU’s approach to engaging stakeholders in its trade policy-making?”, is that so far the DAGs have had only limited success in engaging civil society stakeholders. The reasons for such assessment are limited horizontal inclusiveness of the DAGs, especially as demonstrated by the Georgia case study; limited vertical inclusiveness in both EU and non-EU contexts, meaning that the DAGs lack general prominence in policy making and impact on specific issues; uneven engagement patterns especially in non-EU contexts, as in some countries DAGs or officially designated substituting mechanisms are not fully functional; and wide-spread criticism coupled with numerous requests and activities towards a radical change, which is directed at the DAGs by stakeholders both within and outside the EU.
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Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Ghent University
  • Shahin, Jamal, Supervisor
  • Orbie, Jan, Supervisor, External person
Award date20 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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