This paper examines the transformation of the European Union from a laggard to a leader in the international politics of biotechnology regulation. The emergence of EU leadership in global environmental politics during the 1990s seems to support recent arguments about the distinctive nature of the EU as a 'normative power' in international relations. However, as this paper argues, this perspective lacks historical depth and fails to capture tensions between competing principles and conflict among domestic interest groups in Europe. The paper calls for a more critical reading of the normative power argument and identifies shifts in the domestic political economy of agricultural biotechnology as the key factors behind the EU's support for a precautionary international regime on trade in genetically modified organisms
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