This paper aims to convince the reader of the potential of a critical version of historical institutionalism (HI) as a theoretical perspective for EU trade policy analysis. It argues that critical HI sensitises the analyst to important but hitherto often neglected factors including: the influence of the past on EU trade policy; the complex, multiarena and multilevel nature of contemporary trade policy; and issues of distributional conflict. The core concept in critical HI is ‘reactive sequencing’, conceiving of policy evolution as a chain of events produced by reactions and counter-reactions. This paper demonstrates that this is invaluable to understand contemporary EU trade politics. Some examples of EU trade policy decisions and its general strategic evolution since the conclusion of the Uruguay Round are given to show the value of critical HI. Finally, the external dimension of “Europe 2020” as the latest trade policy strategy is analysed from a critical historical institutionalist angle.
EU trade policy; critical historical institutionalism; reactive sequencing; new trade politics
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