The Political Economy of Emission Standards: Politics, Business and the Making of Vehicle Emission Regulations in Sweden and Europe


International Seminar in English

Vendredi 17 Décembre 2021, 14:00 - 16:00 CET


Mattias Näsman, doctor of economic history at Umeå University, Sweden, presents his thesis that explores the historical development of vehicle emission regulations in Sweden and Europe. The thesis specifically explores the case of Sweden, but analyzes this development within its wider European economic, regulatory and environmental policy context. The story begins in 1960 when the first serious discussions on controlling motor vehicle air pollution through regulation began and ends in the late 1980s when European countries adopted emission standards embodying the use of three-way catalytic converters. By focusing on government experts’, business, and governmental actors’ interaction in the political process, the study reveals that Sweden led the European development toward stringent vehicle emission standards by implementing stricter standards than those applied within the European Economic Community. However, the thesis concludes that the importance of the international car trade and the fact that catalysts required the introduction of unleaded gasoline in countries outside of Sweden presented a major obstacle for Swedish policymakers to implement stringent standards. Concurrently, Swedish policymakers were obstructed more by technical and political developments abroad than by the national and international car industry. The Swedish car industry firmly opposed Swedish unilateralism since the Swedish government’s first decision in 1968 to go it alone by implementing standards that were stricter than those applied in Europe, but the thesis concludes that the Swedish industry, nevertheless, did not have a substantial influence on Swedish environmental policy in this area. Instead, the thesis concludes that Swedish experts and the knowledge they produced was a key element in opposing the power of the car industry and the European Commission, as well as for linking Swedish standards and coordinating implementation of unleaded gasoline with other ‘progressive’ countries through the so-called “Stockholm Group.” Thus, the thesis offers historical lessons for how to govern the current technical transitions in the car industry, highlighting the role of knowledge production and use and the interdependence between emission standards and material infrastructures (fuel distribution).
The thesis is available for download here:


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