Nudge and the European Union

Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy, 2019

HEC Paris Research Paper No. LAW-2020-1364

11 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2020 Last revised: 12 Feb 2020

Date Written: December 1, 2019


Europe has largely been absent from the US-dominated debate surrounding the introduction of nudge-type interventions in policy-making. Yet the European Union and some of its Member States are exploring the possibility of informing their policy action with behavioural insights. While a great deal of academic attention is currently been paid to the philosophical, ethical and other abstract implications of behavioural-informed regulation, such as those concerning autonomy, dignity and moral development, this chapter charts and systematizes the incipient European Nudge discourse.

Besides a few isolated initiatives displaying some behavioural considerations (e.g. consumer rights, revised tobacco products directive, sporadic behavioural remedies in competition law), the EU – similarly to its own Member States – has not yet shown a general commitment to systematically integrate behavioural insights into policy-making. Given the potential of this innovative regulatory approach to attain effective, low-cost and choice-preserving policies, such a stance seems surprising, especially when measured against growing citizen mistrust towards EU policy action. At a time in which some EU countries are calling for a repatriation of powers and the European Commission promises to redefine - in the framework of its Better Regulation agenda - the relationships between the Union and its citizens, nudging might provide a promising way forward. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, this promise has not only been shared by the 27 remaining Member State but also represents one of their major priorities . Yet with promises come challenges too.

The chapter proceeds as follows. Section 2 sets the scene by discussing the growing appeal of nudging among policymakers within and across Europe. Section 3 introduces the notion of behavioural policymaking and contrasts it with that of nudging. Section 4 describes the early and rather timid attempts at integrating behavioural insights into EU policymaking and identifies some domestic experiences. Section 5 discusses the institutional and methodological efforts undertaken by the EU and some of its member states to embrace behavioural policymaking. In turn, section 6 discusses the major difficulties of integrating behavioural insights into EU policymaking and offers some concluding remarks.

Keywords: EU Law, behavioural sciences, nudges, regulation, libertarian paternalism, regulatory policy, policymaking, behavioural policy, impact assessment, randomized control trials, Better regulation

JEL Classification: I12, I28, J18, K00, K20, K23, K32, M00

Suggested Citation

Alemanno, Alberto, Nudge and the European Union (December 1, 2019). Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy, 2019, HEC Paris Research Paper No. LAW-2020-1364, Available at SSRN:

Alberto Alemanno (Contact Author)

HEC Paris ( email )

1 Rue de la libération


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics