The EU's trade policy will enter uncharted waters in 2010, as it will have to face new challenges both internally and on the global stage, which could slow down the liberalisation process. Internally, the Commissioner designate for trade, Karel De Gucht, will have to find his own space within the new EU institutional framework introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. In the aftermath of the global economic crisis, the EU negotiator will also have to face resistance to further trade liberalisation from some member states, including Spain, and key trading partners, such as the US. Against this backdrop, the European Commission may find it difficult to advance the Doha round at the World Trade Organisation and may have to explore alternative approaches, such as bilateral free trade negotiations or green' issues in order to advance its liberalisation agenda.


The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty opens a new era for EU trade policy. Although this policy remains the exclusive competence of the Commission, as in the past, the new commissioner's room for manoeuvre is likely to be limited both by the new powerful High Representative, Baroness Ashton, and by the European Parliament. In the pre-Lisbon period, the commissioner in charge of trade carried considerable weight in external relations. The new trade commissioner runs the risk of being overshadowed' by the high representative, who will become the EU's chief diplomat and public face to the world and will coordinate the work of the other commissioners in charge of development, humanitarian aid and neighbourhood policy.

Although WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy expects the EU's trade policy to remain "as stable as the course of an oil tanker", the goal of increasing the coherence of the Union's external action, as stated in the new treaty, could evolve into a threat to the independence of the trade portfolio. The first half of 2010 will be a testing time, since the "Spanish Presidency will be pushing for greater policy coherence," a Commission source told Europolitics. De Gucht will have to protect his turf and will no doubt enjoy the support of Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the most free trade-oriented member states, including Sweden, the UK and Denmark, which are wary of trade policy becoming subordinated to political objectives. The fact that Ashton had held the trade portfolio until last November will not help the former Belgian foreign minister's cause either.


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