Delay and Dilution in the Implementation of Environmental Norms: Business Groups and the Regulation of Car Emissions in Switzerland in the 1970s–1980s

During the last decade, we have witnessed increased public concern about vehicle emissions and growing frustration with political inaction and businesses’ preference for the status quo. This paper offers a historical perspective on this debate by shedding light on the political struggle that occurred around the implementation of new regulations reducing air pollution caused by motor vehicles in Switzerland in the 1970s. Relying on archival material of the Swiss Union of Commerce and Industry and of the Federal Archives, the analysis shows a complex pattern of business influences, coming both from Swiss organized business and from their European counterparts, such as the Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie. The paper, therefore, contributes to the renewed interest of business historians in analysing how business representatives dealt with what they perceived as “political risks”. It seeks to provide concrete qualitative empirical evidence about how they proceeded to achieve their goals and to illustrate the varieties of channel of influence that were at play (business-government relations, bilateral and multilateral negotiations, transnational ties within the business community). It also discusses the role of organized business as “political inhibitors”, by showing that the business community experienced diverging interests regarding the new policy and that this case cannot be analysed through a simplistic opposition between the business community and environmental policy makers.