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Risk Regulation in Contemporary Europe: an American perspective

Professor David Vogel
Department of Political Science and the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley
Email: vogel@haas.berkeley.edu|

Date: January 2001
Venue: CARR Seminar Room, H615


Through the mid 1980s, health, safety and environmental regulations tended to be stricter in the United States than in Europe. This is no longer the case: a number of European environmental and consumer safety standards enacted over the last fifteen years are stricter than their American counterparts. In a number of critical respects, contemporary regulatory politics and policies in Europe resemble those of the United States during the 1960s and 70s: they are highly contentious, NGOs enjoy substantial political influence, courts exercise considerable regulatory oversight and policy makers find themselves under considerable political pressure to adopt risk adverse policies, even in the absence of conclusive scientific evidence. The precautionary principle both encourages greater reliance on science, and the making of non-scientific judgements.

There are a number of explanations for the emergence of a new European regulatory risk regime. These include, the emergence of a European civic culture characterised by a strong interest in regulatory issues, a series of regulatory failures that have undermined public confidence in existing regulatory institutions and the capacity of governments to protect their citizens, and the European Union, which has both heightened public scrutiny of both EU and national regulatory policies and provided more opportunity for political participation by NGOs. Each of these causes has parallels with America of the 1970s.