Covid-19, a “Soft” Regulatory state approach and the Spanish Experience

The Covid-19 crisis has rekindled the long-standing debate over the role of experts in policymaking. The pandemic is testing institutional frameworks throughout the world. This article explores the debate from an institutional perspective focusing on the EU and Spain. It analyses the EU’s common risk regulatory framework and then the institutional choices made to accommodate it. More specifically, the article explores the institutional proposal of the EU to address threats to human health, that is, its “soft” regulatory stance combining politics and expertise through consultative agencies. Then, the article analyses the Spanish management of the Covid-19 crisis and highlighting shortfalls of institutional design. In particular, the absence of an agency with reliable expertise, especially at the risk assessment stage, proved to be a disadvantage for crisis management in Spain because it opened space for intense crossfire and delegitimization. The contrast between the EU’s proposal and the Spanish experience managing the Covid-19 crisis shows that the “soft” regulatory model may be a suitable option for the design of institutional frameworks to address health threats.