Promoting sustainable development or legitimising free trade? Civil society mechanisms in EU trade agreements
This study critically reflects on the involvement of civil society actors in the sustainable development chapters of recent EU trade agreements. It discusses how civil society mechanisms may legitimise the underlying neoliberal orientation of the agreements through co-optation of critical actors. Starting from a critical perspective and drawing on evidence from innovative survey data, qualitative interviews and participatory observations, it concludes that, despite overall criticism, there is no clear evidence of co-optation. While being aware of the risks their participation entail, EU participants take a constructive position. Nevertheless, diverging perspectives between non-profit and business actors risk reinforcing existing power asymmetries.