The Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco, invited David Vogel to hold a speech during November's monthly luncheon at the Urban Tavern in the Hilton hotel.
David Vogel, a well-renowned professor, has been a member of the faculty of UC Berkeley where he teaches Political Science since 1984.
After the traditional introduction by the chairman of the Chamber, Nils Welin, the attending guests were served a delicious meal of seared gravlax with dill-creamed potatoes, the brain child of Pierre Johansson of the Urban Tavern.
The topic of the day was "Trading Places: Environmental Policy in Europe and the United States." Vogel pointed out some noteworthy differences between these two hemispheres of major influence in the world.
The pattern from the 1960's up to the mid-90's, when comparing the standards in the U.S. and Europe, was that the U.S. took the lead with what can be described as “brave regulations,” such as completely prohibiting ozone, and Europe followed. The U.S. also took the lead in negotiating international treaties (such as the Montreal Protocol). To sum it up, the regulations in the U.S. were much more stringent during this time when compared to the regulations in Europe.
Since the 1990's, however, the tables have turned in favor of Europe, where the EU has enacted a number of regulations which the U.S. failed to adopt. The standards in the U.S., known to be very strict, have stopped evolving; for example, the use of antibiotics in food is banned in Europe but is still allowed in the U.S. Internationally, Europe has taken the lead over the U.S., which refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. The EU has consistently been one of its major supporters.
The U.S. and Europe are often linked for having so much in common, so Vogel addressed why their regulations tend to be so different. He noted that several of the individual states in the U.S. have been influenced by European legislation even though the federal government of the U.S. has not. Also, big American corporations, such as L'Oréal and McDonald's, have voluntarily started to follow the standards of the EU.
The tendency seems to be that when the EU and the U.S. don't agree, the world splits into two halves: Each follows the standard of its biggest trading partner. As one of the EU’s biggest trading partners, China, for example, has adopted many of EU’s standards.
These days all trade disputes are American claims about the EU, where it used to be the other way around. So why have the tables turned so drastically?
One of the factors lies in the decisions made by the Republican Party (although most of the old advancements were made under Republican rule). Another factor is the EU with its harmonized standards. A third factor is popular psychology where it's easy to spot certain trends among the general population over time: A few years ago the American people used to worry a lot about the environment whereas people in Europe did not – today it's the complete opposite. Many tend to think that Europe cares more about the environment, and the U.S. (with its free enterprise) is seen as a reckless cowboy; but it's important to keep in mind that the U.S. used to be on the edge; the tables just might turn again.