European Commissioner for Trade

The European Commissioner for Trade (sometimes referred to as the EU Trade Commissioner) is the member of the European Commission responsible for the European Union's common commercial policy.

European Commissioner
for Trade
AppointerPresident of the European Commission
Term lengthFive years
Inaugural holderJean Rey


The Commissioner heads up the Directorate-General for Trade in defining the commercial policy of the EU, which has been exclusively under the EU's mandate since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Due to the size of the European economy, being the world's largest market and having a huge slice of world trade, this position can be very important in dealing with other world economic powers such as China or the United States. Former Commissioner Leon Brittan commented that “Frankly, it is more important than most [national] cabinet jobs”.[1]

The Commissioner defines the trade interests of the EU and negotiates bilateral, regional or multilateral agreements with third countries. They also monitor the implementation of such agreements and deals with any unfair practices, devise and monitor internal and external policies concerning international trade, ensure consistency in EU external policies and provide up-to-date public and industrial economic information.[2]


The EU has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in its own right since the WTO was founded on 1 January 1995, alongside its member states. Until 1 December 2009, it held WTO membership under the name European Communities rather than European Union.

The EU forms its own customs union with a common external tariff and commercial international trade policy, which means that the EU operates as a single actor at the WTO, represented by the European Commission.[3]

EU trade policy is decided by the Article 133 Committee – named after the article of the EU treaties on which its trade policy is based – which brings together the Commission and member states to decide policy. Actual negotiations are carried out by the Commission's Directorate-General for Trade under the authority of the Trade Commissioner.[4]

However, current plans for the European External Action Service (EEAS) may see trade and WTO relations being transferred from the Commission to the EEAS and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The EU has been involved in a large number of trade disputes with other WTO members, most notably the United States, having brought 81 cases to the WTO, had 67 brought against it and been a third party in a further 88, as of March 2010.[3]


Mandelson (2004–2008)Edit

At his hearing at the European Parliament in 2004, Peter Mandelson expressed a desire to develop multilateral rule-based trade, benefiting the poor as well as helping general economic development. He has been noted for being pro-European and an Atlanticist.[5]

Concluding WTO talks has been a contentious point after the collapse of the Doha Development Round, with the EU not willing to cut agricultural subsidies without similar action by the United States.

Mandelson proposed the creation of European golden shares in July 2007, to protect certain European companies, such as Airbus, from foreign takeovers. The Commission has generally been against golden shares due to their ability to distort the Single Market, the idea being that European golden shares would protect certain companies, but not other European companies, from outside influence.[6]

Mandelson stated that he did not intend to seek another term in the Commission after 2009,[7] stepping down in 2008 to become Business Secretary in the Brown ministry. Although his tenure was supported by business representatives in Brussels in light of his advocacy of free trade, his departure was generally welcomed by development NGOs and fair trade campaigners, who viewed his attitude towards developing countries as aggressive, supporting European big business over development goals.[8]

Ashton (2008–2009)Edit

Catherine Ashton was nominated by Gordon Brown to replace Mandelson on 3 October,[9] and formally appointed on 6 October.[10] Although a life peer, she does not use her title Baroness Ashton of Upholland during her commissionship.[11]

Ashton became the new High Representative on 1 December 2009, being replaced as Trade Commissioner by Benita Ferrero-Waldner until the second Barroso Commission was in place.

De Gucht (2010–2014)Edit

Karel De Gucht was appointed Commissioner on 9 February 2010, however his statements to the European Parliament ahead of his appointment were met with dismay by trade justice campaigners, who claimed his "responses at his three-hour hearing revealed his corporate sympathies and gave little indication that the change of personnel at the European Trade Commission will lead to any change in the direction of European trade policy."[12]

De Gucht criticised China for undervaluing the renminbi and the United States for protectionism and incoherence over the Doha round.[13] This further came after EADS pulled out of a US defence contract bid – that it had previously won before it was reopened – claiming bias against them in the tender process.[14][15]

De Gucht achieved important trade agreements during his commissionship, among others, with South Korea (2011), Colombia and Peru (2013) and Central America, Singapore, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine (2014). The comprehensive trade agreement with Ukraine was a direct cause of the upheavals in Independence Square and the 2013–14 Ukrainian crisis. He concluded CETA, the first ever agreement with a G7 member, in October 2014. He also concluded landmark economic partnership agreements with ECOWAS, SADC and EAC, covering a total of 75% of the African economy. The EAC trade agreement was signed in Nairobi on 31 October 2014, his last day in office.

He left office while several trade negotiations were still ongoing. He oversaw the start of trade negotiations with Japan and Vietnam, resumed talks with Mercosur and began investment agreement negotiations with China. He also prepared and launched the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in 2013.

He enjoyed a strong reputation within the Commission at the end of his mandate, because of his progression of the trade portfolio and his strong views on European policy questions.[16] On the other hand, he had to deal with some criticism in the general public and the media because of the apparently intransparent European negotiation mandate in the ongoing TTIP trade negotiations with the USA, which gave rise to a number of rumours. The concerns were partially relieved after the negotiation mandate was released to the public in October 2014.[17]

Malmström (2014–2019)Edit

Cecilia Malmström was appointed Commissioner on 1 November 2014. The mission letter for her new post mentioned the successful conclusion of TTIP as one of her key duties, but with a number of restrictions and confinements to the negotiation mandate in order to address European public concerns.[18] The confinements were the result of the hearing in the European Parliament a few weeks previously, where she was faced with some tough questions over TTIP negotiations. She tried to revive the negotiations with the United States two weeks after entering office.[19]

Hogan (2019–2020)Edit

Phil Hogan was appointed Commissioner on 1 December 2019.[20]

He said in his confirmation hearings that he intended to sign the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment in 2020,[21] while Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that she wanted a trade agreement with the United Kingdom before the end of 2020.[22]

However, in light of his conduct surrounding the Oireachtas Golf Society scandal, Hogan resigned from his role on 26 August 2020.[23]

Valdis Dombrovskis (since 2020)Edit

After Phil Hogan's resignation, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen invited the Irish government to present "suitable candidates" for the vacant Commissioner position.[24] On 27 August 2020, von der Leyen designated Valdis Dombrovskis as interim Commissioner for Trade, who at the time also served as Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and the Capital Markets Union.[24] Dombrovskis was formally named Commissioner for Trade on 8 September 2020,[25] leading to Ireland losing the trade portfolio on the Commission, and gaining Dombrovskis' former Finance portfolio.[26]


Name Country Period Commission
1 Jean Rey   Belgium 1957–1962
Hallstein I
Hallstein II
2 Jean-François Deniau   France 1968–1970 Rey
3 Ralf Dahrendorf   West Germany 1970–1972
4 Christopher Soames   United Kingdom 1973–1977 Ortoli
5 Wilhelm Haferkamp   West Germany 1977–1981
6 Willy De Clercq   Belgium 1985–1988 Delors I
7 Frans Andriessen   Netherlands 1989–1992 Delors II
8 Leon Brittan   United Kingdom 1993–1995
Delors III
9 Pascal Lamy   France 1999–2004 Prodi
10 Danuta Hübner   Poland 2004
11 Peter Mandelson   United Kingdom 2004–2008 Barroso I
12 Catherine Ashton 2008–2009
13 Benita Ferrero-Waldner   Austria 2009–2010
14 Karel De Gucht   Belgium 2010–2014 Barroso II
15 Cecilia Malmström   Sweden 2014–2019 Juncker
16 Phil Hogan   Ireland 2019–2020[23] von der Leyen
17 Valdis Dombrovskis   Latvia 2020–present

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. ^ The New Commission – Some initial thoughts Archived 23 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine BM Brussels
  2. ^ Commissioner: Mandate, European Commission
  3. ^ a b MEMBER INFORMATION: The European Union and the WTO, WTO – accessed 18 March 2010
  4. ^ EU and WTO Archived 30 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine, EU Delegation to Japan
  5. ^ Opening statement for European Parliament Hearing European Commission
  6. ^ 'Golden share' could protect EU companies from takeover: Mandelson[permanent dead link] EU Business, 23 July 2007.
  7. ^ Press Association (22 March 2007). "Mandelson to step down as EU commissioner". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  8. ^ Phillips, Leigh (3 October 2008) Trade commissioner Mandelson resigns, EU Observer
  9. ^ Chaffin, Joshua; George Parker (4 October 2008). "EU president backs trade role for Ashton". Financial Times. Retrieved 6 October 2008.
  10. ^ "Policy - Trade - European Commission". Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  11. ^ "Catherine Ashton, EU Trade Commissioner, Trade website". European Union. 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2008.
  12. ^ "European parliamentary hearing of Europe's new trade commissioner". Global Justice Now. 18 January 2010. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  13. ^ Willis, Andrew (19 March 2010) De Gucht criticises China and US on trade, EU Observer
  14. ^ "Northrop and EADS exit tanker bid". BBC News. 9 March 2010.
  15. ^ "EU concern over end of tanker bid". BBC News. 9 March 2010.
  16. ^ "'Ben ik rechts? Nee!'". De Standaard (in Dutch). Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  17. ^ "Press corner". European Commission - European Commission. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  18. ^ Malmström Mission Letter as the Commissioner for Trade of the Juncker Commission, (2014-11-01) - accessed (2014-11-27)
  19. ^ Malmström attempts to revive EU-US trade talks, EU Observer (2014-11-18) - accessed (2014-11-27)
  20. ^ "Von der Leyen's Commission: The ones to watch at Europe's new top table". BBC. 27 November 2019.
  21. ^ "Hogan convinces MEPs by toughening up trade stance". EURACTIV MEDIA NETWORK BV. 1 October 2019.
  22. ^ "European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wants 'unprecedented' trade deal by end of 2020". ITV plc. 8 January 2020.
  23. ^ a b Connelly, Tony (26 August 2020). "Phil Hogan resigns from EU role following golf controversy". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  24. ^ a b Moens, Barbara (27 August 2020). "Dombrovskis steps in as interim EU trade commissioner". POLITICO. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  25. ^ "Valdis Dombrovskis named new EU trade commissioner". POLITICO. 8 September 2020. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  26. ^ "Valdis Dombrovskis chosen as EU's trade chief". The Irish Times. Retrieved 6 October 2020.