An Unexpected Romance: Swiss-Swedish Linking of Car Emission Standards in the 1970s and 1980s

During the last decade we have witnessed increased public concern about vehicle emissions and growing frustration with political inaction and business preferences for the status quo. This presentation offers an historical perspective on such regulation dynamics by analyzing the Swiss and the Swedish cases whose governments were forerunners in implementing vehicle emissions regulations in Europe from the mid-1970s onwards. Relying on activists’, governments’ and business associations’ archives, the analysis focuses on how political solutions for reducing the toxicity of vehicle emissions were achieved in Sweden and Switzerland respectively. It uncovers the influence of national as well as international business groups and the existence of the tension between various national ministries, arising from conflicting environmental and trade-related goals. Is also highlights the importance of different institutional settings in creating the expertise to explain the political outcomes. While the Swiss corporatist system gave a lot of power to a variety of interest groups at each stage of the political process, the Swedish government had invested significant means in the creation of independent expertise and enjoyed a relative autonomy, despite the importance of the Swedish car manufacturer, Volvo. The analysis also assesses the importance of the Swiss-Swedish collaboration in overcoming certain obstacles and their contribution to the implementation of stricter regulations that ultimately occurred at the margins of the European Economic Community.