The Perils of Committee Governance: Intergovernmental Bargaining during the BSE Scandal in the European Union
This paper contributes to the ongoing debate between principal-agent theory and the concept of deliberative supranationalism regarding the functioning of the EU committee system by analysing regulatory policy-making in the BSE case. The BSE crisis can be seen as a critical instance for committee governance. This paper argues that the EU's mismanagement of the BSE crisis was mainly due to the prevalence of member states' parochial interests, which clearly supports a rationalist perception of the EU committee system. Whereas the committee system might lead to deliberative problem-solving in more favourable circumstances, the distributive consequences of BSE regulations were asymmetric and too large to permit individual concessions. Consequently, the EU committee system institutions were too weak to prevent reversion to intergovernmental politics. The UK initially downplayed the problem in order to protect its beef industry against a likely ban in the Single Market. After the BSE health risk became evident in 1996, the other member states reacted by banning British beef imports. Throughout these episodes, scientific evidence indicated that neither the British nor the other member states' strategies were sustainable. Only when BSE became 'Europeanised' in 2000 were the member states able to adopt common policies to fight the disease. Whether the new European Food Safety Agency will be able to prevent such crises in the future is an open question, but is doubtful in light of its institutional weakness.
BSE crisis; comitology; expert committees; intergovernmentalism; policy analysis; risk regulation; Single Market; law; political science
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