A new ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union has determined that large-scale free trade agreements (FTAs) involving the EU will continue to require individual approval from the governments of each member state.
Eleanor Sharpston, an advocate general serving as an adviser to the court, has deemed that the broad-ranging nature of trade deals such as the one the EU is currently trying to close with Singapore means that it is beyond the jurisdiction of Brussels to make unilateral decisions on whether to implement them.
The European Commission sought the views of the court on this matter due to its belief that it should have exclusive competence to conclude the agreement with Singapore, which was signed in 2013. However, Ms Sharpston's ruling indicated that the FTA affects a number of provisions over which individual states need to have a say.
These include provisions on trade in air, maritime and inland waterway transport services - and government procurement matters related to these provisions - as well as issues pertaining to the non-commercial aspects of intellectual property rights, and certain labor, environmental and dispute resolution standards.
Ms Sharpston's decision is non-binding, with a final decision from the Court of Justice expected in the coming months. However, its rulings usually follow the recommendations of its top advisers.
This issue has been in the spotlight recently after opposition to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada from the Wallonia region of Belgium delayed and almost derailed the ratification of the deal.
It could also hinder and complicate the progress of future FTAs, including any that the UK hopes to strike with the EU after it exits the bloc.
A European Commission spokesperson said: "This is an important element contributing to the court's reflection, so we are of course carefully analyzing it. However, it must be clear that no definitive conclusions can be drawn until the court itself issues its final opinion."