International negotiations as a two-level game

One of the recurring themes in IPE research is that domestic politics can have a significant impact on international outcomes. From institutions (Broz & Plouffe 2010; Mansfield, Milner & Pevehouse 2007) to the influence of partisanship (Putnam 1988; Milner & Rosendorff 1997), variations at the domestic level shape both policy makers’ actions and policy outcomes.

The past couple of days give us two nice illustrations of these dynamics.

In Europe, the Walloon regional parliament has blocked ratification of CEFTA, the free-trade agreement between Canada and the EU. In this case, there’s something more like a four-level game at play: a sub-national body blocks ratification at the national level, which prevents ratification at the EU level. The fourth level in the negotiating game is between Canada and the EU. Of the CEFTA features to which the Walloons objected, it is perhaps a bit ironic that agriculture takes center stage, illustrating in a microcosm the issues facing progression in the WTO’s Doha negotiations. In a nutshell, the two biggest complications are the institutionalization of agricultural protection in developed countries (which reduces their negotiating space), and the large number of potential veto players involved in the negotiating process.

In the second example, Theresa May finds herself constrained by a Parliament skeptical of the government’s Brexit strategy (as well as a domestic public increasingly feeling buyer’s remorse over Brexit) and an EU council unwilling to make anything close to the concessions promised by the pro-Brexit campaigners earlier this year. The difference in this case from the usual two-level negotiating game is that EU preferences are not necessarily in favor of Brexit occurring. In a trade or investment deal, negotiating governments have interests in seeing talks lead to a successful conclusion and ratification. The EU has strong incentives to maintain a hard line to prevent further defections in the future. It will be interesting to see which side wins out, although that may have to wait until the ongoing case against the UK government (over Parliament’s right to vote on Article 50) is concluded.

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International negotiations as a two-level game

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