Ole Elgström and Christer Jönsson
The EU negotiation system is extremely complex, involving a large number and varieties of issues, actors and roles. Despite the multi-faceted nature of these layered and heterogeneous negotiations, it is still possible to distinguish some common features and prominent patterns. In a sense, the EU negotiation system is sui generis: while some of the traits presented below can be found in other international or national settings, the overall aggregation of shared features seems to be unique, giving EU negotiations a particular flavour (cf. Elgström and Smith 2000). From another perspective, the EU system of negotiation may be claimed to represent a model for what future international negotiations might look like, in a world chararacterized by increasing interdependence and democratization (cf. Giddens 1998). The European Union constitutes, according to this view, a laboratory where experiments with multi-level governance negotiation processes are taking place, and the traits described below represent a structured attempt to pinpoint the peculiarities of such a system.
First, EU negotiations are permanent, linked and continuous. It is difficult to define when a particular negotiation starts or ends. Different negotiations are interlinked or overlap. The outcome of one negotiation process creates a new bargaining situation and becomes the starting point for new negotiations, often involving the same actors. Phenomena like path-dependence, lock-in and institutionalization become pervasive (Laffan 2000). The embeddedness of EU decision making also limits the freedom of maneouvre of participating actors. The option to leave a negotiation, to use the exit alternative, is often not available, in effect transforming the 'three-fold choice' (Iklé 1964) of negotiators (to accept an offer, to try to improve the outcome or to abandon the negotiations) to a 'two-fold' variety. This has important effects on strategy and tactics.
From another perspective, the possibility of close international cooperation increases with the length of the shadow of the future. If actors know that their future interaction will last for a very long time, the potential long-term gains from cooperation increases and becomes much more certain, making reciprocity stable (Axelrod 1984:173). This increases the chances for diffuse reciprocity, meaning that concessions in a bargaining exchange do not have to be made at the same time, and do not necessarily have to be absolutely equivalent (Keohane 1986).