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Working paper / Energy

Regulatory Agencies, the State and Markets: A Franco-British Comparison

Author(s): THATCHER Mark

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ABSTRACT

The article examines whether and how independent regulatory agencies (IRAs) have altered the strategies, relationships and power of French policy makers in markets and whether they led to convergence with Britain in state-market relations. It relates these questions to broader debates about the extent to which previous policy-making systems have been transformed, whether Europe has one regulatory state or several, whether France has become a form of ‘liberal market economy’ and the power of the state after reform of markets. It argues that although, as in Britain, France has established IRAs with responsibilities for ensuring competition in key economic domains, French state strategies remained very different from British ones and markets operate very differently in the two countries. Moreover, the break with the past has been limited: public policy makers continue to have significant capacities to mould markets and delegation to IRAs has often reinforced the power of existing elites and aided the adaptation of traditional French industrial strategies to new conditions. Thus even if France has adopted the formal institutions of competitive markets, it has not converged with a liberal market economy such as Britain in terms of strategies and behaviour. State forms and instruments may have altered, but an activist French industrial policy is alive and well.