The Contentious Global Agenda for Services

Since the 1990s, the EU has been a main advocate of a new agenda to bring forward services liberalization, notably in the framework of the GATS signed by member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Europe’s comparative advantage in the realm of services is at the core of the European narrative about competitiveness. In times of slow growth and high unemployment, the further liberalization of trade was presented as the engine of Europe’s growth. Although, in theory, international trade agreements should not affect the provision of public services, the intricacies of WTO law (or provisions in bilateral and regional agreements), on the one hand, and EU law, on the other, have been conducive of the continuous marketization of welfare services. As an important number of welfare services have witnessed a certain degree of liberalization and marketization within the EU over the past two decades (e.g. utilities, postal services, transport), this has progressively enlarged possibilities for trading in policy sectors which have a general interest dimension. The EU Commission, upon whom was conferred by the treaties the exclusive competence to negotiate in the name of the EU in international trade talks, has consistently advocated reciprocal market opening in these sectors with non-EU partners. Through the connection

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 A. Crespy, Welfare Markets in Europe, Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-57104-5_5

between the internal market and external trade, EU policies have therefore acted as a catalyst for the marketization of SGI both within and outside of Europe. This has contributed to making the EU a ‘conflicted trade power’ (Meunier and Nicolai'dis2006).

Thus, the dynamics between capitalism, democracy and European integration in connection with welfare services cannot be understood by looking at the EU in isolation from the developments in global policy making and politics. Yet, the literature remains divided between scholars of international relations, who study global politics but pay little attention to EU internal policies and governance, on the one hand, and specialists of EU and comparative politics, who rarely look at external policies and international organizations, on the other hand.1 This is particularly true as far as welfare services are concerned. This chapter therefore brings novel insights by taking multi-level politics seriously and complementing the classic perspective on the dynamics between negative and positive integration by examining the role of policy making at the global level. It is argued that the dynamics of negative integration at the global and European level have been mutually reinforcing, not only due to institutional and legal mechanisms but also for political and ideological reasons. Ever since its inception in the 1990s, the global agenda for services liberalization promoted by the EU institutions and other Western countries has brought about resistance. Contestation by pro-regulation coalitions at the global and European scale led to the politicization of welfare services in international trade. Although, for different reasons, the actual marketization through trade of SGI has remained limited so far, renewed initiatives and agreements have covered an increasing number of sectors such as energy, healthcare or education.

The first section of this chapter provides an account of the ways in which the global and European agendas for negative integration are intertwined from a legal, institutional and ideational point of view, and how a neoliberal policy agenda has been promoted by the EU Commission with regard to SGI. The second section examines the campaign by civil society and political actors against the inclusion of welfare services in the GATS. By studying coalition formation and discursive battles in Europe [1]

and globally, the effects and limitations of such resistance to the global liberalization of welfare services are demonstrated. Finally, the third section of the chapter explains how, after the demise of the GATS, welfare services have remained a contentious issue in relation with the trade agreements promoted by the EU, either bilaterally (such as the TTIP) or multilaterally (like the TISA).

  • [1] For an exception, see, for example, Xiarchogiannopoulou and Tsahouras (2014).
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