Analysis: “Governance Reform and Public Acceptance of Regulatory Decision Making: the case of EU Pesticides Authorisations” by T. Kuhn, M. Weimer, D. van der Duin, and J. Zeitlin
Do governance reforms affect public acceptance of regulatory decisions, and if so how? A team of researchers from the University of Amsterdam Centre for European Studies (ACES) tackled this critical but under-studied question through a pair of linked survey experiments on public attitudes towards the reform of EU pesticides regulation among a representative sample of the adult population in six EU Member States (DE, FR, IT, NL, PL, SE; n=9000). First, we conducted a joint experiment to study whether and how the specific design of decision-making procedures impact public support for EU pesticide regulation. We asked respondents to rate and choose between randomly assigned policy packages, covering five dimensions of proposed reform of EU pesticides authorisation (the level of decision-making, the factors to be considered, the sources of evidence, whether or not there is systematic post-authorisation monitoring and review, and the effects on food prices). The two strongest effects, holding all else constant, were the inclusion of post-authorisation monitoring and review, with the possibility of removing the pesticide from the market in case of unexpected negative effects, and non-reliance in the authorisation process on scientific studies conducted on behalf of the manufacturer, which increased respondents’ likelihood of supporting a proposed policy package by 22% and 15% respectively.
In a second linked experiment to analyse how regulatory decision-making procedures impact the acceptance of their outcomes, we asked respondents whether they believed that farmers should be allowed to use glyphosate, the best known and most controversial pesticide. We then showed respondents one of the policy packages that they had rated most highly, and asked them if they would be prepared to accept an authorisation decision on glyphosate that ran counter to their prior expressed preference if it were taken under the regulatory decision-making procedure they supported. The results clearly demonstrate that the adoption of a regulatory decision-making procedure that people (strongly) support makes them substantially more willing to accept (or not oppose) a hypothetical authorisation decision contrary to their prior expressed preference. The effect is stronger for supporters than opponents of glyphosate, but is also visible and significant among the latter, who are 40% less likely to reject an authorisation decision if it is taken under a procedure they support. Our study thus provides strong evidence that governance reforms that citizens substantively support can enhance acceptance of regulatory decisions that run counter to their prior expressed preferences, even on highly contentious and politicised issues such as the authorisation and use of pesticides.
A video presentation and discussion of this research at an online seminar on Trust & Regulatory Governance in an Age of Crisis, organised by the EU Horizon 2020 project on Trust in Governance and Regulation in Europe (TiGRE), can be found here.
Theresa Kuhn is an Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Amsterdam.
Maria Weimer is an Associate Professor of Law, University of Amsterdam.
David van der Duin is a PhD Candidate in Political Economy, University of Ghent.
Jonathan Zeitlin is a Distinguished Faculty Professor of Public Policy and Governance, University of Amsterdam, and Academic Director of ACES.