Impact of the EU internal market rules on national animal welfare standards.
With rising income levels, societies increasingly raise concerns about process standards of specific products, such as animal welfare standards. Despite gaining public importance, societal demands for higher animal welfare levels only seem to be limitedly addressed by respective government regulations. One explanatory factor for this policy gap may lie in perceived or real risks of relocation which particularly prevail in a deeply integrated market such as the European Union. These economic risks may potentially exert a powerful influence on national policy-making.
The European Single Market ensures free movement of goods, services, labour and capital amongst member states, constituting a right of market access to other EU national markets for all economic agents, thus overriding the powers of EU member states to implement access barriers. This free movement is in turn guaranteed via a powerful principle of market integration prevailing within the EU to deal with regulatory barriers: mutual recognition. Mutual recognition stipulates that any product lawfully produced in one country must also be accepted in another country. As a result, higher national standards are likely to be undermined by imported products produced at lower costs. This in turn may delay or even prevent the implementation of the higher standards in question: due to fears of replacing some parts of the domestic production by imports from countries with less rigid legislation, standards may not be increased in the first place or only with lengthy delays. In sum, the institutional structure of the EU, and more specifically, the principle of mutual recognition potentially has an impeding effect on animal welfare standards and on process standards in general. However, there is by no means clear evidence for this hypothesis. This article aims to fill this research gap by assessing the effect of mutual recognition on animal welfare standards using various methods. In a first step, the state-of-the-art of the effect of mutual recognition on standards existing in the literature is laid out. In a second step the institutional rules of the EU to deal with regulatory diversity are explored. This legal analysis determines the actual policy space member states have to raise national animal welfare standards and to protect these from non-complying imports. Thirdly, in-depth interviews with decision makers and key lobby groups will reveal perceptions of experts on the effect of mutual recognition on animal welfare standards. The interview results are then compared to and complemented with a discourse analysis which examines the significance of arguments such as “competitiveness” and “risks of relocation” in political debates of animal welfare policy-making. Thus, this study will shed light on the functioning and effects of the institutional structure of the EU on national animal welfare standards. The second paper of this PhD thesis will then draw lessons from alternative ways to deal with non-tariff barriers in highly integrated markets.
Keywords: mutual recognition, race to the bottom, race to the top, animal welfare standards, internal market rules, EU, European Union.