Social Capture of EU Competition Policy

This article argues that EU competition policy may be becoming more lenient through social capture. Social capture is a process whereby the social environment of public officials consciously or inadvertently shapes their policy-relevant views in a direction that serves the regulated entities. Unlike in other areas of public policy, the social environment influencing competition officials is not formed by the actual regulated entities, i.e. highly heterogeneous big business, but rather by the competition practitioners advising and representing them. The practitioners work mainly for large corporate defendants, which leads to their community leaning strongly towards non-interventionism. Because of the following three channels of social influence, this worldview may become endorsed also by competition officials: First, the officials often socially identify with the community of practitioners. Second, the officials tend to perceive the practitioners as having higher status. And, third, many officials regularly interact and develop relationships with the practitioners. The risk of social capture needs to be taken seriously considering the major efforts of big business to make EU competition policy more lenient through other avenues such as lobbying and sponsored research. The article also discusses measures to address social capture, cautioning nevertheless that its causes may at the same time generate countervailing policy benefits.