Skip to content

37 Working Paper

"Protective Regulation and I'rotectionism in the European Community: the Creation of a Common Market for Food and Beverages"

1991 David J. Vogel


This paper describes the efforts of the European community to create a single European market for food and beverages as well as agricultural animals and plants between the early 1960s and the present.The first section places these efforts in a broader context. Divergent national health and safety standards have become an increasingly important source and focus of trade conflict throughout the industrialized world. The challenges faced by the EC are similar to those faced by any federal or quasi-system, including the united states, namely, the reconciliation of the interests of political sub-units in protecting the health and safety of their citizens with the goal of removing national regulations that function as non-tariff trade barriers.By the early 1960s, tariffs on most goods with the EC had been eliminated. Accordingly the community began to turn its attention to the removal of non-tariff barriers. In the case of foodstuffs, the Commission initially attempted to harmonize divergent member state safety and compositional standards. This effort to create "Euro-food," was, for the most part, unsuccessful: national culinary traditions proved too diverse to be harmonized.In 1979, the European Court offered a solution to this impasse. Cassis de Dijon established the principle of mutual recognition. This meant that any product that could be lawfully sold in one member nation could be sold throughout the EC, unless the importing state was able to demonstrate that its national restrictions were necessary to protect the health of its citizens.Cassis allowed the European Commission to distinguish between non-essential and essential food safety and compositional regulations. The former could be left in the hands of member states, subject only to food labeling requirements; only the latter needed be harmonized. In its 1985 White Paper on the Creation of the Single European Market, the Commission outlined a new strategy for removing intra-Community trade barriers. This new approach formed an important basis for the single European Act, which was approved as an amendment to the Treaty of Rome the following year.Since 1985, the Council has approved a significant number of framework directives. Its efforts, along with a number of European Court decisions that have struck down a number of long-standing national trade barriers, have allowed the EC to make substantial progress in creating a single European market for food and beverages.Nonetheless, significant areas of conflict remain. The divergence of national inspection systems, as well as significant differences in the views of both producers and consumer groups in various member states regarding a number oIf highly visible food safety issues, reveal the persistence of important tensions between consumer protection and free trade within the EC.