Affirming Europe with trade: deal negotiations and the making of a political identity

Publication Title

Comparative European Politics

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Department or Program


Publication Date



CETA, Identity, Trade, TTIP, Values


Drawing from economic sociology, this article argues that trade liberalization is never devoid of cultural and symbolic content. As such, when pursued by international entities, it can help affirm collective identities. The EU Commission’s recent external trade negotiations with the USA (TTIP) and Canada (CETA) over food quality offer excellent examples. Pitting itself against North American neoliberalism and business-oriented commercialism, the Commission has championed a European understanding of food integrity and social responsibility. In so doing, it has also emphasized its role as the institution protective of European values on the world stage. Internally, the Commission’s pursuit of a digital single market has in parallel revealed a different approach. Here, the Commission has stressed the values of efficiency, the transcending of national borders, and consumer and business freedom. In that context, the Commission has presented itself as the political entity capable of advancing a dynamic and competitive vision of Europe. These differences point to the complexity associated with crafting ‘European’ values. They also point to preexisting domestic regulatory traditions in certain sectors as key factors influencing the Commission. We close by reflecting on the fact that the Commission’s rhetoric has not gone unchallenged externally or internally.


Original version is available from the publisher at: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-019-00180-7