Funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council, RES-062-23-1369 (2009-2011)
International cooperation is becoming increasingly institutionalized. The extent to which this development implies a transfer of political authority depends on how assiduously governments conform to international rules that conflict with domestic preferences. Empirical evaluation of the impact of international rules on domestic policies has, however, been limited. This project, which was funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council, considers the impact of the World Trade Organization – one of the world’s most highly institutionalized international organizations – on the European Union. It finds that WTO rules and rulings have a marked impact on the EU policy process, but that this impact is extensively mediated by domestic political actors. In addition, this project found that actors’ interpretations of the implications of adverse WTO rulings overwhelmingly reflect their preferences regarding the challenged policy. Those that opposed the existing policy were more likely to invoke the WTO ruling as requiring radical change, while those that supported the policy tended to argue that marginal changes would be sufficient to achieve compliance. Because of the important mediating role of domestic actors, the impact of WTO obligations on EU policy varies considerably across policies. Policy changes have been most pronounced where WTO obligations have reinforced an on-going policy change or destabilized an already fragile political balance. Where there was concerted opposition to policy change, WTO obligations had a negligible impact. That the implications of WTO obligations are highly contested in the EU policy process and have varied impacts on policies suggests that there has not been a transfer of political authority to the WTO. I am in the process of writing up the findings as a monograph, but you can read the end of award report.