In the last two decades the adoption of risk-based approaches to governance has been recognised as a highly significant development in the constitution of new regulatory regimes in European countries, whether specific to risk regulation or as part of broader ‘better regulation’ agendas. It has been argued in the literature that the application of risk-based approaches is uneven across national contexts. Risk-based governance is said to be more a feature of governance in the UK than in Germany or France. At the same time, it is said that the European Union has a homogenising impact due to its efforts to harmonise risk analysis procedures in Member States. Vice versa, the UK is often mentioned as a key influence in adopting better regulation practices at EU level.
In this paper, we compare the emerging style of risk-based governance in the United Kingdom and at the EU level. We argue that ‘risk’ has become a dominant frame of public governance across the board in the UK. From a concept that framed intervention in risk regulatory areas, risk has become an all pervasive concept of administrative practice in all policy areas. ‘Risk’ is no longer simply about assessing the likelihood of external hazards in traditional risk regulatory areas, aiming at the protection of health and safety, but becomes a concept that frames the internal administrative practices in all policy areas as a general principle of ‘better regulation’.
In the European Union, instead, such generalisation of risk-based governance has not emerged. ‘Risk’ remains a frame mainly used for dealing with external risk in risk regulatory areas, but it has not become the dominant frame of internal administrative practices more general. The argument that the UK has transferred its risk-based governance practice to the EU is thus not true. Even less, can it be argued that the EU is at the origin of generalised risk-based governance.
The paper is structured in two parts. In the first part, we analyse how risk-based governance has become a general feature of UK administrative practice.