EU-bashing and olive oil : a tale of EU skepticism, political opportunism and weak EU citizenship

How a well-intentioned EU initiative turned into a
Commission’s ‘own goal’ and why this shouldn’t have not happened. A worrying
combination of political self-interest, media amplification and weak trust in
the EU explains the EU Commission’s U-turn on its recent proposal banning
refillable olive oil bottles in bars and restaurants.


One of the many provisions proposed by the EU Commission
within the framework of itsAction
Plan for the olive oil sector 
unexpectedly gained global (media)
attention and suddenly came under attack. The contested provision would have required
that restaurants serve olive oil in sealed, clearly labeled and nonreusable
containers, instead of relying on refillable containers.

The EU adopts around 60-70 legislative acts and around 2000
acts implementing previously adopted legislation (so-called non- legislative
measures, like the proposal here at stake) every year. While the former
category tends to draw some public attention, the latter seldom gains media

How one of these countless EU technical regulations hit
public attention? 

During the last EU Summit, the UK Primer Minister, echoed by
his Dutch counterpart,publicly
 the EU Commission’s adopted proposal. David Cameron dismissed
the rule, by ridiculing it as "exactly the sort of area that the
European Union needs to get right out of".

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Airline ‘fat taxes’ on obese travellers? A bad idea that won’t fly

Whyis it that most airlines charge passengers for excess
luggage but do not charge them basedontheir individual weight? At a time of high fuel costs and experimental lifestyle
regulatory action, economists, business analysts and airlines operators have begun
to play with this idea.

Although it initially sounded like an April Fools’ Day
joke, Samoa Air announced on April 1 that it is ready to initiate a plan to
charge passengers according to their body weight. This tiny company is thus set
to become the first airline in the world to embrace a ‘pay-as-you-weigh’
pricing policy: to charge passengers based on personal weight rather than per

There's been talk of charging by this method for a
while, and some analystsbelieve this is how we will soon pay for future
flights. It is no surprise that the provocative CEO of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary,
has been flirting with the idea to impose an extra levy on passengers who weigh
considerably more than average.

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Horsemeat scandal turns into a food safety crisis

Although the current horsemeat scandal has been depicted as an instance of fraud and mislabeling generated by a single source, it is progressively escalating into a broader food safety crisis that reveals some flaws in our EU food safety system. Yet relying on country-of-origin-labelling – as many have invoked it – to tackle misleading labeling of food ingredients might be the wrong answer to the good question raised by this unfortunate story.

Let’s start from the facts before providing an analysis enabling us to identify the flaws of the current EU regulatory framework and providing some recommendations.

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The Snus' Trap: on Commissioner Dalli's Resignation

While it is not mystery that the lobbying activities by the tobacco industry have been unprecedented over the revision of the EU tobacco products directive, nobody would have expected that this piece of legislation would have cost the responsible Commissioner his job.

I was in the classroom when I learned that the EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, announced his resignation as a member of the Commission, with immediate effect. Interestingly enough this occurred when I was illustrating my students the policy options considered by the EU Commission in the ongoing revision of the tobacco products directive, by far the most sensitive proposal under his portfolio. Of course, being this class offered in the framework of my global risk regulation, I also introduced my students to the controversial issue of snus, a smokless oral tobacco product that for the time being can only be legally marketed in Sweden but that the current directive could allow within the EU. As is well known, the role of snus as a smoking quitting aid has split the public health community over the years. The tobacco control movement, by dismissing harm-reduction approaches to tobacco products (in favor of an abstinence approach), rejects snus by questioning its (scientifically-proven) less harmful health effect when compared with that of smoked tobacco.

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Cass Sunstein stops nudging from the White House

The White House yesterday announced the departure of Cass Sunstein, Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and one of the closest and most influential advisers of President Obama. The news came unexpected to the many, not to the few.

Sunstein will return to his position as the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School where he will direct the new Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy (his previous Program on Risk Regulation never really took off due to his departure to the White House).

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2nd HEC Paris Workshop on Regulation: Regulating Lifestyle in Europe

The workshop will take place on September 20-21, 2012 at HEC Paris main campus.The draft program is now available and registration is open

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Nudging Europe: Why the European Commission should include behavioural insights in the design of regulatory proposals

In recent years, findings in behavioural sciences have highlighted the complex cognitive framework in which people make decisions. In particular, behavioural economics, by refuting the neoclassical assumption of human full rationality, has revealed a set of psychological biases capable of explaining why too often people make choices that seem to go against their best interests. Thus, for instance, owing to the tendency of people to stick to the default option, inertia and ‘default rules’ have a large effect on the outcomes for society: unless you are automatically enrolled in a savings plan, you are unlikely to opt in. Framing and presentation can also influence individual behaviour: when patients are told that 90% of those who have a certain operation are alive after three years, they are more likely to have the operation than when they are told that after three years 10% of patients are dead. In other words, choices are not only made on the basis of the expected outcome but tend to be affected by how they are framed. Similarly, information that is vivid and salient can have a greater impact on behaviour than information that is statistical and abstract: pictorial warnings on tobacco products produce greater dissuasive effects than text warnings. Finally, in multiple areas, individual behaviour is largely influenced by the perceived behaviour of other people. In particular, perception of what is the social norm in a given community may affect risk-taking, vis-à-vis – for instance – tobacco, drug and alcohol consumption.

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EJRR Issue 2/2012 - The European Parliament’s role in risk governance

The latest issue of the EJRR boasts a wealth of risk-related articles, reports and cases including a symposium devoted to the European Parliament’s role in risk governance

I am pleased to draw your attention to the table contents of the last issue of the European Journal of Risk Regulation.

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Beyond Nudge: Behavioral Science, Policy and Knowing What Works

By espousing behavioral tests in policy making and policy outcomes, the UK Cabinet Office Behavioral Insights Unit Team is imposing itself as the world leader among the first governmental efforts to integrate behavioral research into policy making


I had the unique chance to be invited by the UK Cabinet Office Behavioral Insights Unit Team (BIT) to attend “Nudge and Beyond: Behavioral Science, Policy and Knowing What Works” that took place in London last week. As suggested by its title, the aim of the meeting was to take stock of BIT’s first two years of existence and to boldly address the questions recently posed by PM David Cameron to Professor Richard Thaler, the initiator of Nudge thinking and one of the fathers of behavioral economics:

What’s should be next in the Nudge agenda? How to depoliticize the BIT’s pioneering work in integrating behavioral research into policy-making?

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The Microban judgment – Expanding Access to Justice in Europe

Delivered on October 25 2011, the Microban judgment,by defining the new category of challengeable acts laid down by the Lisbon Treaty, softens the locus standi of individuals in front of EU Courts.  As such, it is of considerable importance for practitioners of EU law.


Undersettled case law, access to justice isone of the constitutive elements of a European Union based on the rule of law.According to the Court of Justice of the European Union(CJEU), this is guaranteed in the treaties through establishing a ‘complete system oflegal remedies’designed topermit the CJEU to review the legality of measuresadopted by the EU institutions. Yet, in the framework of the action for annulment, the conditions for legal standing have historically been restrictive, which has led many toquestion the ‘completeness’ of the EU judicial system. While anindividual may lodge a complaint against an act that is specifically addressed to him (e.g. a decision finding anticompetitive behaviour), he could notchallenge an act of which he wasnot the addressee unless he couldshow that the act was of individual and direct concern to him. In particular, the concept of ‘individual concern’ was construed very narrowly: the applicanthadto show that he was affected by the measure in question just as if he had been the express addressee. This interpretation meant in practice that, besides a few exceptions, a complainant couldcontest the validity of general legislative measures, such as a regulation or a directive, in so far as they are typically designed to create general rules aimed at an indefinite number of addressees.

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