Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Expanding, Complementing, or Substituting Multilateralism? EU Preferential Trade Agreements in the Migration Regime Complex

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Abstract:  Intense pressure for international solutions and weak support for multilateral cooperation have led the EU to increasingly rely on its strongest foreign policy tool in the pursuit of migration policy goals: preferential trade agreements (PTAs). Starting from the fragmentary architecture of the migration regime complex we examine how the relevant content of the EU PTAs relates to multilateral institutions. Depending on the constellation of policy objectives, EU competence, and international interdependence, we propose a set of hypotheses regarding the conditions under which EU bilateral outreach via PTAs expands, complements, or substitutes international norms. Based on an original dataset of migration provisions in all EU PTAs signed between 1960 and 2020, we find that the migration policy content in EU PTAs expands or complements the objectives of multilateral institutions only to a very limited extent. Instead, the predominant constellation is one of substitution in which the EU uses its PTAs to promote migration policy objectives that depart from those of existing multilateral institutions.

Keywords:  EU; migration; preferential trade agreements; regime complexity; venue‐shopping


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© Paula Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, Sandra Lavenex, Philipp Lutz. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.