British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

The Hare and the Tortoise Revisited: The New Politics of Consumer and Environmental Regulation in Europe

a1 Department of Political Science, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley


There has been an important shift in the pattern of divergence between consumer and environmental protection policies in Europe and the United States. From the 1960s through the mid 1980s American regulatory standards tended to be more stringent, comprehensive and innovative than in either individual European countries or in the European Union (EU). However, since around 1990 the obverse has been true; many important EU consumer and environmental regulations are now more precautionary than their American counterparts.

The ‘new’ politics of consumer and environmental regulation in Europe are attributable to three inter-related factors: a series of regulatory failures within Europe, broader and stronger political support for more stringent and comprehensive regulatory standards within Europe and the growth in the regulatory competence of the European Union.

In many respects, European regulatory politics and policies since the 1990s resemble those of the United States during the 1970s. Thus health, safety and environmental politics and policies in the United States are no longer as distinctive as many scholars have portrayed them.


1 Earlier versions of this work were published as working papers by the European University Institute and the Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation, London School of Economics and Political Science.