Perspectives on Politics


The Power Politics of Regime Complexity: Human Rights Trade Conditionality in Europe

Emilie M. Hafner-Burtona1

a1 Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs, Princeton University. E-mail:


This article argues that international regime complexity has shaped Europe's politics of human rights trade conditionality by creating opportunities for various types of “forum shopping,” and, consequently, that some of the most significant politics of human rights enforcement have occurred in an entirely separate issue area—trade—which are being worked out partly during lawmaking and partly during implementation. The presence of nested and overlapping institutions creates incentives for rival political actors—whether states, institutions, or policymakers—to (1) forum shop for more power, (2) advantage themselves in the context of a parallel or overlapping regime, and (3) invoke institutions á la carte to govern a specific issue but not others. Each tactic creates competition between institutions and actors for authority over the rules, setting hurdles for IO performance. Even so, (4) regime complexity can make enforcement of rules that are impossible to implement in one area possible in another area.

Emilie M. Hafner-Burton is Assistant Professor Politics at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs, Princeton University (


The author is grateful to the participants of this symposium for their helpful comments, and to Nuffield College at Oxford University and Princeton University for financial support during the completion of this project.