Risk regulation without political conflicts? Regime structures in food safety politics in Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands.

VerfasserJanning, Frank

1 Introduction

The policy fields of risk regulation in the policy areas of health, environment and consumer protection are marked by a paradox. On the one hand, current dangers, scandals or accidents provoke massive political debates and cause state actions. The adoption of risk minimizing legislative packages as well as administrative reforms are then critically observed by the public sphere (Linzmaier 2007; Meins 2002). Therefore debates over necessary reforms and assessments of the initiated actions take place within a strong political climate. Governments and oppositions struggle about reform initiatives and about the scale of the required changes, and try to use crises to establish themselves for upcoming elections. Real or potential risks of new products, of environmental changes or of unhealthy lifestyles are perceived and interpreted along criteria inherent in political competition. On the other hand, policy fields of risk regulation experience relatively quiet phases, during which policy design and enforcement of investigations and safety tests are carried out as routine matters, while the public does not pay attention to the implications of new political decisions or potential dangers. During these phases, which often follow after restructuring reforms, the policy formulation and implementation is mostly de-politicized. Media attention declines and policy formulation and implementation are dominated by experts within the bureaucratic structures, representatives of interest groups and scientific technicians. It is a basic assumption of current policy research that autonomization and de-politization of processes within regulatory policy fields are accompanied by the emergence of specific regime structures (Eberlein/Grande 2000, 2005; Schneider/Janning 2006: 164ff.). Policy regimes can detach themselves from external influences and waves of politization, if they gain power in policy-making and implementation (Janning 2007a; Muller 2002). Within the regimes, actor constellations and systems of rules and procedures evolve, which enable the regimes to execute political authority in their specific area of regulatory politics. The policy design and implementation is therefore strongly guided by the actors within the policy field, their behavior and interaction with each other. The political center of political consultation and decision committees in the parliament and the governmental apparatus, stays relatively passive and is, at the most, treated as obligatory passage point.

This paper aims at examining how far regimes have developed in a specific area of risk regulation. In the field of food safety politics, a subfield of risk regulation, regime structures are going to be examined via a comparative analysis. The policy field of consumer protection politics in Europe was affected by severe changes as response to the BSE crisis. These changes concern administrative as well as programmatic reforms at both EU and national levels. The following analysis is therefore guided by the question whether these reforms encouraged or prevented the formation of partly autonomous policy regimes. The first section of this paper describes the changes in the policy field of food safety politics on the EU level. These reforms affected the member states, since food safety and food regulation are strongly determined by EU rules and regulations. The selection of the cases to be compared regarding specific consequences of the regulations is oriented along a basic differentiation of regulatory policy traditions in the field of consumer protection prior to the BSE crisis. In the following section, the theoretical framework for a comparative analysis is developed. The concept discussion leads to a typology of regime types that can be used to compare the selected cases. The next three sections compare the regimes of food safety politics in Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany. Regulations of food safety still show specific national features and constellations. In Great Britain and the Netherlands, the results seem to indicate the development of regimes with a stronger element of de-politization of policy-making than in Germany. The conclusion interprets the results in the light of general tendencies of de-politization.

2 Food Safety as a Policy Regime: The Europeani-zation of Risk Regulation

National and supranational risk regulation programs are generally motivated by the need to manage or avert crises or catastrophes. (1) In Europe, it was the BSE crisis that radically transformed the policy areas of food safety and consumer protection (Alemanno 2006; Chalmers 2003; Janning 2004; Smith u. a. 2004). The BSE crisis did not only trigger the awareness about problems in the industrial meat production and processing or the intransparency of the European wide distribution of meat products and animal food, but it also pointed to the shortcomings and thus the need to reform of the established ways and means of food safety regulation (Millstone/Zwanenberg 2002; Vos 2000). For EU member states in which meat production is an important economic factor (e.g. Germany, Great Britain), the BSE crisis demonstrated shortcomings in political risk management and a lack of political neutrality in risk assessment (Dohn/Schmiedendorf 2001; Dressel 2002; Greer 1999; Winter 1996; Wolters 1998). On the level of the EU, the complex structure of counseling bodies, whose role it is to consult and make suggestions to the Commission and the Parliament was criticized. The British government was able to fuel key positions of relevant committees with British experts, who maintained close ties to national business interests, and thus prevented critical debates about BSE in EU decision bodies (Chalmers 2003; Chambers 1999; Krapohl/Zurek 2006; Vos 2000). In face of the crisis the EU initiates crucial reforms in the field of risk regulation in order to restructure the whole system of food safety regulation drawing the consequences of the failure of early warning systems, of insufficient risk management procedures, and of insufficient capacities to estimate the development of potential dangers (Alemanno 2006; Vos/Wendler 2006).

As a first consequence of the hitherto discussions, a regulation that points to a general reorientation of the field of food safety in Europe was approved. The Decree (EG) No. 178/2002 explicitly refers to the risk analysis approach as basis for decisions concerning the permission of food products. It therefore refers to the principal of precaution as a fundamental aspect of risk regulation. Moreover, the regulation initiated the important act of establishing the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2003, which began to operate from its headquarters in Parma in October 2005. The EFSA carries the main responsibility for the assessment of risks and dangers in the food sector, and acts as main advisor to the EU Commission in risk assessment issues. However, the final decision concerning warnings and restrictions lies with the Commissions itself and the responsible DG for Health and Consumers. The Decree 178/2002 also calls for harmonization and alignment of national regulations in the food sector, and advocates a neutral, centralized model of risk assessment organized on the EU level.

The reforms and regulations on the EU level were followed by similar processes of restructuring within the member states. Certainly, many modifications resulted from EU guidelines and regulations, but there are also a few cases of national policy innovations in the field of food safety regulation. Also, specific latitudes and rooms for innovations were used in different countries. (2) Thus, in order to answer the question how policy regimes in the field of food safety politics in Europe have developed, a case selection of the countries to be analyzed should be oriented along the Most Similar Systems Design (MSSD), or the Method of Difference (Blatter/Janning/Wagemann 2007: 142ff.) respectively. The countries selected for analysis in this paper share several features, as they are all western industrial states integrated into the EU and organized as parliamentary democracies. However, they differ in the general guideline and outcomes of one or more policy regimes. Furthermore, the case selection should include countries in which the political treatment of the BSE crisis had a high priority and in which the food sector is an important segment of the economy. (3)

Up to the mid-1990s when the EU started to initiate regulatory reforms in consumer protection and later in food safety regulation, the selected countries fulfill the conditions of the MSSD. They furthermore show a high variance in their national consumer protection policies (DTI 2003; Mitropoulos 1997; Tanzler u. a. 2005): Germany represents a system of consumer protection with high state activity characterized by complex legal provisions and governmental initiatives to stabilize the organization of consumers' interests (Janning 2004). The state is installed as supervisor of safety standards and consumers' interests and dominates the formulation of policies in the best interest of the consumer. Up to the 1990s, food regulation in Germany fulfills in general the characteristics of a state centered protective policy. Great Britain also has a long tradition of codified consumers' rights. British consumer protection policy-making is dominated by the attitude that the support of consumers' interests should not interfere with the free articulation of market forces in the economy. Therefore it is characterized by a liberal market regulation approach. Especially for the case of food safety regulations, there are many factors that indicate a liberal market consumer protection regime up to the 1990s; a regime that relies on self-regulation in the main sectors and allows only few state interventions (Barling/Lang 2003: 10; Flynn/Marsden/Harrison 1999; Mars-den/Flynn/Harrison 2000: 73ff.). In the...

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