Risk Regulation without Political Conflicts? Regime Structures in Food Safety Politics in Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands

Article excerpt

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. …