The Jean Monnet Program

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The Jean Monnet Program
Professor J.H.H. Weiler

European Union Jean Monnet Chair

Jean Monnet Working Paper 9/01

Catherine Barnard and Simon Deakin
Market Access and Regulatory Competition

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The Jean Monnet Working Papers are published under the auspices of the

Jean Monnet Program

hosted at Harvard Law School from 1995 to 2001

and now based at New York University School of Law

ISSN 1087-2221

 Catherine Barnard and Simon DeakinMarket Access and Regulatory Competition

Catherine Barnard and Simon Deakin*

In this paper we consider some of the free movement jurisprudence of the Court through the lens of a law and economics analysis, with a view to considering how far this case law discloses a coherent approach to the question of regulatory competition. We take as a starting point the premise that the EC rules on freedom of movement for goods and persons show some signs of converging around a principle of “market access”. We then examine the relationship between the proposed market access principle and the concept of regulatory competition. We argue that a move to market access would be helpful in clarifying the issues at stake over regulatory competition but argue that there is a risk that an unqualified market access principle might not achieve the benefits which regulatory competition is meant to bring about. We then examine the relationship between regulatory competition and other areas of EC policy making, including harmonisation Directives and other forms of policy intervention such as the open method of coordination (OMC).
This paper was first delivered at a workshop on “The Legal Foundations of the Single Market: Unpacking the Premises” held in Cambridge on 27-28 April 2001 and sponsored by the British Academy and the Centre for European Legal Studies at Cambridge. The proceedings of the workshop are to be published by Hart Publishing in 2002 in a book edited by C.Barnard and J.Scott.
1. Introduction
It seems that the EC rules on freedom of movement for goods and persons show some signs of converging around a principle of “market access”.1 According to this principle, national legal measures which have the effect of either preventing or seriously hindering access to the home market (or a relevant part of it) from another Member State would either be per se illegal or would have to be justified by a version of the “rule of reason”. It has been argued that by displacing the confused and fragmented case-law which has emerged when applying the non-discrimination principle, a market access test would not only introduce greater doctrinal coherence into a currently confused area of law; but it could also create a space for more effective regulatory competition within the EC.

The purpose of this paper is to examine in more detail the relationship between the proposed market access principle and the concept of regulatory competition. We argue that a move to market access would be helpful in clarifying the issues at stake over regulatory competition. At the same time we question whether an unqualified market access principle would achieve the benefits which regulatory competition is meant to bring about. On the contrary, unless the emerging economic jurisprudence of the Court addresses legitimate concerns about the effects of the market access principle on Member State autonomy, the market access test will struggle to gain acceptance.

Our focus on regulatory competition may need some justification. The stated aim of the EC rules on free movement is not regulatory competition, but market integration.2 In so far as they promote market access, the free movement rules also have the effect of protecting what can be seen as fundamental rights in the economic sphere. The debate over regulatory competition, by contrast, is concerned with arrangements for rule-making and the division of powers between state-level bodies and transnational entities, an apparently separate set of issues.

On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that market access and regulatory competition are two sides of the same coin. Within a federal constitutional framework (or in a transnational entity such as the EC), mobility of economic resources is one of the first preconditions for the emergence of a market in legal rules. When courts review laws of Member States against criteria of how far such laws obstruct, or promote, economic mobility, they are necessarily defining the scope and nature of regulatory competition. Their approach to market access will therefore have profound implications for the nature of the law-making process and for the content of legal rules in a variety of substantive areas as well as for the division of powers, and the doctrines of preemption and subsidiarity. Given the importance of the issues at stake, it would be preferable if these considerations were to be more clearly articulated by the courts as part of a market access test. This would engender a more meaningful debate on the effects of free movement jurisprudence and its relationship to other areas of EC policy making, including harmonising Directives and other forms of policy intervention such as the open method of coordination (OMC). As part of this debate, it should be possible to set more coherent limits to the market access principle than has hitherto been the case.

In developing this argument we outline in section 2 the theoretical foundation of regulatory competition, the so-called pure theory of decentralised law-making, and draw out its legal implications. We then move on in section 3 to a closer examination of the predominant conception of regulatory competition in practice, which we refer to as the model of “competitive federalism”, and examine its implications for the market-access test. We find that decisions which make adequate sense when expressed in the customary doctrinal language of free movement and market integration often appear inconsistent when seen through the lens of competitive federalism. In section 4 we argue that much of the difficulty stems from problems with the idea of “competitive federalism”, and we consider alternative approaches, both in respect of legislation and judicial intervention, which acknowledge space for diversity in rule-making between the Member States. Section 5 concludes.
2. Regulatory competition: theoretical underpinnings
The term “regulatory competition” refers to a process whereby legal rules are selected (and de-selected) through competition between decentralised, rule-making entities (which could be nation states or other units such as regions or localities). Three justifications are normally given for regulatory competition: firstly, it allows the content of rules to be matched more effectively to the preferences or wants of the consumers of laws (citizens and others affected); secondly, it promotes diversity and experimentation in the search for effective legal solutions; and thirdly, by providing mechanisms for preferences to be expressed and alternative solutions compared, it promotes the flow of information on effective law making.

In Tiebout’s influential formalisation of this idea,3 the mechanism through which competition operates is mobility of persons and resources across jurisdictional boundaries. In his “pure theory” of fiscal federalism, local authorities compete to attract residents by offering packages of services in return for levying taxes at differential rates. Consumers with homogenous wants then “cluster” in particular localities. The effect is to match local preferences to particular levels of service provision, thereby maximising the satisfaction of wants while maintaining diversity and promoting information flows between jurisdictions.

Tiebout’s model can be applied to laws since they, like public services, have the character of what economists refer to as indivisible public goods, that is to say, they cannot easily be priced individually because of issues of non-excludability. Hence collective consumption is more cost-efficient. Laws, then, are seen as products which jurisdictions supply through their law-making activities, in response to the demands of consumers of the laws, that is, individuals, companies and other affected parties. If supply and demand can be brought into equilibrium, then, in the terminology of welfare economics, static or allocative efficiency will be maximised. This is another way of saying that the wants or preferences of the various parties will have been satisfied to the greatest possible extent.

At the heart of this conception of regulatory competition is decentralisation. The process cannot work unless effective rule-making authority is exercised by entities operating at a devolved or local level. It is argued that a centralised or “monopoly” regulator would, by contrast, behave like any other monopoly; contrary to the normal laws of supply and demand, the price of the product goes up while the quantity supplied diminishes, so driving a wedge (a “social cost”) between an optimal economic outcome and what actually occurs. To avoid this outcome implies conferring law-making powers on lower-level units, subject only to the principle that there must be some level below which further decentralisation becomes infeasible because of diseconomies of scale.

Perhaps the best known case of regulatory competition is the so-called Delaware effect in US corporations law. Over 40% of New York stock-exchange-listed companies, and over 50% of Fortune 500 companies, are incorporated in Delaware. Some commentators have argued that Delaware’s success in attracting such a high level of company incorporations has been achieved by lowering standards.4 As Cary has famously argued,5 when coining the term “race to the bottom” about Delaware, the state has gained its pre-eminence in the corporate charter market due to its ability to attract incorporations favourable to managers at the expense of shareholders. He claimed that corporate standards were deteriorating, particularly in respect of fiduciary duties, leading to the rights of shareholders vis-à-vis management being watered down to “a thin gruel”.6 As part of this process, Delaware, “a pygmy among the 50 states prescribes, interprets, and indeed denigrates national corporate policy as an incentive to encourage incorporation within its borders, thereby increasing its revenue”.7 To counter this, Cary proposed the enactment of a Federal Corporate Uniformity Act, allowing companies to incorporate in the jurisdiction of their own choosing but removing much of the incentive to organise in Delaware or its rival states.8

Although some EC company lawyers have supported harmonisation precisely in order to avoid a Delaware style “race to the bottom”,9 the idea that Delaware law represents a lowest common denominator has been challenged by accounts which argue that any attempt by managers to downgrade shareholder interests would, over time, lead to a hostile response by the capital markets. Managers therefore have an incentive to incorporate under the law of a state which favour shareholder interests since “[s]tates that enact laws that are harmful to investors will cause entrepreneurs to incorporate elsewhere”.10 If this is the case, “Delaware attracts incorporations not because its laws are lax, but because they are efficient”.11 Thus, some commentators argue that Delaware has so perfected the art of matching its laws to the demands of the users of those laws that it has won the race to the top.12 In general, while the claim that Delaware company law is efficient remains much disputed,13 it is generally agreed that regulatory competition need not, necessarily, imply a degradation of standards.14

In terms of the legal framework required, the pure theory envisaged by Tiebout is clearly opposed to harmonising measures which aim to impose uniform laws on local jurisdictional entities. These laws would simply obstruct the spontaneous movement to equilibrium of the forces of supply and demand. However, it is less often noticed that the pure theory is ambivalent with regard to centralised judicial review of national-level regulation. This is because, in a perfectly competitive market for legal rules, it would be enough for the courts formally to guarantee the right of free movement on the part of the consumers of laws. In the somewhat unrealistic world imagined by the pure theory, the correct response to a legislature which, for example, banned the advertising of alcohol (as in GIP15), or which insisted on applying its own minimum wage legislation to foreign workers on its territory (as in Rush Portuguesa16), would be for the factors of production to decide whether or not to quit that state for one which provided a more appropriate regulatory regime. Hence voters who were unhappy with a state’s alcohol advertising ban would exit to what they regarded as a more congenial legal regime, while labour-only subcontractors would shun a country which applied its labour standards in an over-rigid way.

Taking the process back one stage, such laws could be avoided in the first place in so far as their negative effects imposed a potential cost on legislators in the jurisdictions adopting them. If such laws reduced the wealth of the citizens of the country concerned, legislators would, it is presumed, have an incentive to avoid adopting them (this would be the case if the well-being of the legislators was linked to the well-being of the country in some way). On the other hand, it might well be the case that citizens (and legislators acting on their behalf) prefer to pay the price for having high standards in areas of product safety and social policy. They may prefer, in other words, to trade off a part of national wealth in return for social redistribution or environmental protection. If this is the case, there is nothing in the pure theory to say that they should not have the right to do so. A federal judicial body should no more prevent the exercise of local-level sovereignty by striking down such laws, than a federal legislature should seek to occupy the field at their expense.

As we have seen, in the world of the pure theory, freedom of movement is assumed for the purpose of setting up the formal economic model. The model does not aim to explain the institutional underpinnings of mobility (such as the mechanics of the principle of non-discrimination, and the (federal) legislation to facilitate free movement). Instead, the model is aimed at showing that, given an effective threat of exit, spontaneous forces would operate in such a way as to discipline states against enacting laws which set an inappropriately high (or low) level of regulation. The model can, however, be used as a benchmark against which to judge institutional measures aimed at instituting regulatory competition. Since, in the “real” world, mobility of persons and of non-human economic resources is self-evidently more limited than it is in the world of pure theory, two prerequisites for making exit effective may be identified: legal guarantees of freedom of movement for persons and resources, and application of the principle of mutual recognition.17 In addition, it is accepted that some unwanted side effects of competition (“externalities” or spill-over effects of various kinds) may arise, thereby giving rise to an efficiency-related argument for some harmonisation, although there is in general a presumption against federal intervention and in favour of allowing rules to emerge through the competitive process. Thus the task of analysis, in this approach, becomes that of identifying how far the “real world” departs from the pure theory, and using legal mechanisms to realign the two.18 This is the approach to regulatory competition which is generally characterised as competitive federalism.

  1. Competitive Federalism and Market Access in the EU

    1. The Logic of Competitive Federalism in the EU

The logic of competitive federalism appears to lend support to a strong, substantive version of market access19 and to a wide principle of mutual recognition. Legal guarantees of mobility for persons and resources would maximise the disciplinary effects of exit. Hence, a strong version of market access should in principle apply to the right of free movement of persons and to the right of freedom of establishment and to supply services. However, this alone is not sufficient. Even with strong legal guarantees of free movement, linguistic, cultural and other practical “barriers” to movement on the part of people and organisations could be expected to persist, at least in the context of the EU (by comparison to the culturally more homogenous USA). Nevertheless, migration may still have a powerful effect. It may be sufficient for a few, “marginal” consumers to make (or be prepared to make) the move in order for a disciplinary effect to arise. Another possibility is “selective regulatory migration”. This occurs where persons are free to adopt the laws of a particular Member States for selected purposes. In essence the Delaware effect is an illustration of this – an enterprise can choose to be bound by just one aspect of Delaware law (its corporations law)20 while remaining subject to the laws of other member states in relation, for example, to employment law or product liability.

In practice, regulatory competition within the EC does not rest on migration alone. Given the practical barriers to free movement within the EC, in general, it is easier (or, less costly) for goods to move to persons rather than the other way round: therefore, free movement of goods acts as a proxy for free movement of persons. Thus the Cassis principle,21 by requiring the receiving or “host state” to open its markets to goods legitimately produced in any other Member State (the “home state”), provides a vital additional mechanism for subjecting laws to the forces of regulatory competition. This is the essence of “mutual recognition”. Consumers in the host state now have a choice of goods produced under different regulatory regimes. Competition between goods produced under different legal systems means, in effect, that the laws of those systems are thrown into competition with each other too.

Nevertheless, if applied without any qualification, there is the danger that mutual recognition would lead to a race to the bottom, and to a deregulation of standards.22 If State A, with high standards, is obliged to admit goods from State B with low standards, State A could well be forced to lower its standards to enable its national industries to compete with imported goods on its own domestic market and also on foreign markets. Proponents of deregulation might argue that this result is desirable, since it represents a spontaneous outcome driven by the operation of a market for legal rules. However, in a situation where the process was triggered by judicial intervention, the argument for spontaneity is a weak one. Furthermore, such a race risks leading ultimately to uniformity at the bottom. Thus, as we shall see, a strong market access test undermines the possibility for diversity at national level which is considered one of the strengths of competitive federalism.

The danger of a race to the bottom is acknowledged within EC law on free movement. One restraint on race to the bottom is the principle of reverse discrimination. State A can insist that its own manufacturers produce goods to the higher standards for the domestic market while being obliged to admit State B’s goods made to a lower standard. Consumers then have the choice to purchase the cheaper, inferior quality goods or the more expensive, superior quality goods.23

Stronger protection against a race to the bottom is derived from the presence of justifying factors for state-level laws, such as the derogations provided for in the Treaty and the “mandatory requirements” discussed in Cassis and the subsequent case-law.24 The mandatory requirements idea, and its equivalents in the cases of freedom of movement of workers and services and freedom of establishment, allow Member States themselves to set a “floor” to the competitive process, subject, however, to the need to satisfy a “rule of reason” test combined with the concept of proportionality. The mandatory requirements principle allows a degree of autonomy in national law-making to be preserved and sets some ground rules for regulatory competition, without the need to resort to centralised standard-setting through harmonisation. However, the success of this approach depends on how, in practice, the principle is interpreted and applied. If it is applied too strongly, Member States will use mandatory requirements as a cover for laws protecting local interests against competition. If it is interpreted too loosely, a court-induced race to the bottom may still ensue.

How far, then, do the current EC rules on free movement match up to the logic of competitive federalism? In practice, two issues must be resolved. The first relates to the notion of “access to the market”. Is access to be understood in a formal sense or a substantive sense? The second issue concerns justifications and derogations. We ask how far will the Court allow a Member State to take advantage of a justifying factor, and how stringently it will review the national measure in question by reference to the proportionality test. We now turn to a more detailed examination of these questions, beginning with the concept of access.

    1. Formal v. substantive access to the market

Tests for determining access to the market can be either formal or substantive. By formal market access, we mean a test which asks whether the formal conditions of entry and exit are met. If any such formal barriers exist they must be removed. Thus, according to the formal market access approach it is sufficient that the goods be allowed onto the foreign market, irrespective of how difficult it is in practice for those goods actually to be sold once they have gained access to that market. By contrast, the substantive sense of the notion of market access focuses on these very practical difficulties experienced once the goods have penetrated the market, and requires that these be eliminated. To give an example, the formal approach to market access would require a German rule banning the importation of French Cassis into Germany to be struck down. The substantive approach would require not only formal access of French cassis to the market (the removal of the import ban) but also, potentially, the elimination of any quality requirements that the French cassis would have to comply with.

We suggest that it is possible to detect in the Court of Justice’s jurisprudence, albeit not clearly articulated, a spectrum of possibilities between these two senses of the test.

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