Ole Elgström and Maria Strömvik
The European Union (EU) is a major player in a large number of international negotiations. It has an important role in multilateral trade negotiations and UN conferences. The European Union has signed trade, aid and cooperation agreements with a large number of regions and countries. It has recently concluded accession negotiations with a number of potential new members. The Union has concluded agreements with numerous states participating in its international crisis management operations, and has negotiated agreements with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on the provision of military assets.
It is common to portray the European Union as a slow and difficult international negotiator. It is often held that EU negotiators tend to be inflexible and unwilling to make concessions, as their negotiation mandate has been preceded by complicated bargaining between the member states. The European Union may often have a 'conservative bias' (Smith 2000), as it tends to protect the lowest common denominator interests of its member states. The institutional complexity of the Union creates problems of synchronization and coordination. Bargaining with the European Union is often protracted, as it is a cumbersome process both to produce a common position between the member states and to renegotiate the common mandate if needed. The European Union is therefore often seen as a foot-dragger in international negotiations.
In this chapter we want to problematize this conventional view of the European Union as a reactive, conservative international negotiator. We argue that the European Union's structural features need not always result in a disadvantage for the Union in international negotiations. We also contend that EU negotiating behaviour to a large extent depends on contextual factors. Are negotiations symmetrical or asymmetrical? Are the intentions of the EU status quo oriented or change oriented? All these negotiation-specific factors determine what bargaining pattern we expect to find. In addition to the European Union's structural features (actor level characteristics) and the negotiation situation (interaction level characteristics), we also ask if the changing nature and character of international negotiations in general (at the systems level) may also begin to impact on the conventional view of the European Union as a passive and inflexible negotiator.