Of Trade Strategies and Inspirational Memes
Didn't you hear?
EU trade policy is going to become more strategically autonomous, or autonomously strategic.
But also more "open and assertive".
As well as a predicable parade of "green, climate-neutral, digital, sustainable, transparent, inclusive, rules-based and multilateral".
This adjectival diarrhoea, in case you missed it, was set out in a 'communication' published this week by EUHQ.
And if the 22-page document, the annex, the Q&A, the seven (SEVEN) accompanying factsheets, the press release and the press conference are all a bit tldr; for you, here's a précis imprécis:
Turns out this means "open" to trade from parts of the world with a record for climate naughtiness or human rights shenanigans or labour and welfare standard impropriety. But we'll damn well "assert" that we're really jolly quite miffed about some of the frankly awful things over there, and by God we're going to keep buying your phones and t-shirts and soybean feed proteins until you change your ways.
And in the meantime we're going to get the global rulebook changed to disallow such mischief.
Which is going to require the buy-in of ...
"Parts of the world with a record for climate naughtiness, human rights shenanigans or labour and welfare standard impropri..." aaah, bugger.
Also, the clarion-call for 'WTO Reform' has been parped out periodically for over 20 years, largely in vain. The appointment of a new WTO president, and the departure of you-know-who from the White House has offered some hope of progress. But on track record, and given the likelihood of objections, and against the backdrop of the harm that you-know-who has done to the WTO, the hope right now is more to locate the handbrake rather promptly and halt the reverse hurtle, then revel for a while in some welcome stasis amid the tyre smoke, before even thinking of engaging forward motion again.
Besides, what does this "assertiveness" even mean? Close EU trade watchers - who really should get out more, if only they could - will note this isn't the only incidence of this term in euro news this week.
We also learnt that a new addition to the UK government will be Boris's Brexit Bruiser (to use the kind of plosiveness we can fully imaging Johnson deploying with puffed out cheeks and pumping fist, to the priapic joy of his tame tabloids). Lord David Frost is to join cabinet in a formal ministerial Brexit role, and will - we're told by said tabloids - be "more assertive" than incumbent Michael Gove.
To be 'more assertive' than a heat-damaged foam-rubber ventriloquist dummy is perhaps a low bar. But Frost was certainly a model of sorts of a kind of assertiveness.
If it's the model the EU is adopting, we can only assume European trade negotiators will be sent forth into the world with a political mandate to hammer bloody-mindedly towards last-ditch last-minute outcomes that leave the EU much worse off than before, somewhat worse off than any number of the other compromise solutions available, and that leave domestic commerce with only days to prepare for a brave new world of unheralded bureaucracy, costs and delays.
So if not the Frost-model of assertiveness, and without the WTO thumbs up to put much more wide-ranging conditions on allowing trade, what are the EU's options?
Well they're set out on page 20 of the 22 pages, after 19 pages of aspirational adjectivalisation and vain euphemism, and a level of substantiveness more usually found in florid fonted cod-philosophies scrawled against sunset backgrounds.
There, the commission pleads the other EU institutions to embrace some measures already in place, and adopt a couple more already in the pipeline. To its credit, it also promises two and half new ways of policing various hitherto inadequately addressed inequities in trade, but leaves those like a soap-episode cliff-hanger - How will Alessandro take the news that Clarissa is having Brian's baby? Was Terence responsible for his business partner's death or was it an accident? What possible shape could a new legal instrument to redress coercive actions of third countries take?
Tune in after due deepened stakeholder dialogue with civil society and social partners.
Thrusting down the threat of new legislative proposals but then leaving us hanging with a promise for further consultation...
it's so ...