Nudge and the European Union

von Alberto Alemanno

Europe has largely been absent from the US-dominated debate surrounding the introduction of nudge-type interventions in policy-making. As the EU and its Member States are exploring the possibility of embracing nudging, it appears desirable to reframe such a debate so as to adapt it to the legal and political realities of the European Union.

Besides a few isolated initiatives displaying some behavioural considerations (e.g. consumer rights, revised tobacco products directive, sporadic behavioural remedies in competition law), the EU has not yet shown a general commitment to systematically integrate behavioural insights into policy-making. Given the potential of this innovative regulatory approach to attain effective, low-cost and choice-preserving policies, such a stance seems inadequate, especially when measured against growing citizen mistrust towards EU policy action. At a time in which some EU countries are calling for a repatriation of powers and the newly established European Commission promises to redefine – in the framework of its Better Regulation agenda – the relationships between the Union and its citizens, nudging might provide a promising way forward. Much of this promise stems from the two ‘seductive dimensions’ of nudging: nudging as politics and nudging as applied social science.

Nudging as politics

By injecting a new understanding of where a given policy problem lies (behaviour) and why this prompts regulatory action (behavioural market failure), nudge-type interventions are set to expand the toolbox of the EU regulator. Reliance on these additional, soft and minimalist forms of intervention may potentially contribute to reallocate the competences between the EU and Member States to the advantage of the latter.

Nudging as applied social science

At the same time nudging carries the potential to inject a culture of testing and experimentation into EU policymaking ...

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