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Realising Europe’s soft power in external cooperation and trade

Steven McGuire, Professor of Business and Public Policy and Dean of the University of Sussex Business School is leading a Sussex team of academics in conducting trade policy research for the European Union (EU).

The European Union’s trade strategy calls for trade and investment policy to take responsibility for supporting and promoting a set of EU values and standards. These relate to human rights, labour rights, environmental, health and consumer protection, sustainable development and economic governance as well as the EU’s broader objectives of protecting people and the planet. Realising these external non-trade objectives through trade policy is no small task.

Trade policy has become increasingly complex. Substantial changes in global politics, the rise of global production and consumption networks and increased disputes on trade integration initiatives (e.g. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) are all having an impact.

For the European Union, trade policymaking is further compounded by the need for consistent policy both in the EU and across Member States. This internal challenge makes EU external non-trade policy objectives all the harder to attain and thereby affects the strength of the EU in global affairs.

In order to help achieve the right balance between promoting the EU's economic interests while also taking into account broader EU policy objectives, the University of Sussex, as part of a global consortium, has received funding from the European Commission Horizon 2020 fund for research into Realising Europe’s Soft Power in External Cooperation and Trade (RESPECT).  The project will run for just over 40 months, ending in April 2021.

The RESPECT project aims to assess current EU trade policy and its coherence with other EU external (environmental, development, social, and human rights) policy objectives, and assess the extent to which EU external trade policies can and do serve wider foreign policy objectives. It will identify the various (institutional, organisational and behavioural) drivers and barriers to a consistent and effective EU trade policy as well as formulate propositions on how to combine trade and other external policies into a comprehensive European foreign policy.

The Sussex arm of the project draws on the expertise of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, which comprises members from across the Schools of Business, Management and Economics, Global Studies, and Law, Politics and Sociology.


The project centres on an in-depth, multidisciplinary analysis of the impact of EU trade-related policies such as investment and economic diplomacy activities by Member States. Through rigorous empirical analysis of the effects of trade and trade policy on non-trade policy objectives, the team will design an analytical tool that can be used to inform the design of a coherent external policy. 

The project will aim to:

  1. Document the current situation - the set of EU and Member State policies that together characterise the EU’s trade and investment-related policy regime.
  2. Understand the factors that influence the ability of different groups of EU external policies to attain both trade and non-trade goals.
  3. Determine the factors that will lead to effective EU external policies.
  4. Develop practical recommendations to redesign EU trade policy for better overall external policy, whilst recognising the political and economic incentives confronting key actors both inside and outside the EU.

The Sussex team will lead on the quantitative assessment of the impact of EU and Member State external policies on trade flows and the EU’s non-trade policy objectives. 


RESPECT will devise recommendations on how to combine trade and other external policies into a comprehensive European foreign policy. Research results will be shared publicly, through a variety of publications and channels, including journal articles and blogs, and mid-term and final conferences.

Furthermore, the project will be closely involved with policymakers responsible for and affected by EU trade, as well as engage with key EU institutions including the European Parliament, to ensure the uptake of research recommendations. Throughout the project there will be a series of events, including ten roundtable discussion events across Europe state capital cities and executive training, to disseminate the research results directly to policymakers. 


  • European University Institute (Coordinator) 
  • Universite Libre de Bruxelles      
  • Universitat Bern                                
  • The University of Sussex               
  • Kozep-Europai Egyetem                  
  • Centre for European Policy Studies   
  • European Centre for Development Policy Management            
  • The Centre for Economic Policy Research                          
  • University of International Business and Economics                 
  • Trustees of Columbia University in the city of New York        

The University of Sussex team includes:

Professor Steve McGuire (lead)

Professor Alan Winters

Professor Jim Rollo

Professor Rorden Wilkinson

Dr Kamala Dawar

Dr Vikrant Shirodkar

Dr Michael Gasiorek

Dr Peter Holmes

Miss Francesca Dennis



By: Charlotte Humma
Last updated: Thursday, 16 August 2018