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About this book

In recent decades, the European Union has developed one of the world's most stringent sets of environmental policies. These policies cover not only the traditional areas of environmental concern, such as fighting pollution and protecting natural resources, but also increasingly salient issues like GMOs and climate change, which affect day-to-day patterns of production and consumption. As with all areas of policy making within the EU, the creation of environmental policy relies on the co-operation of many political actors – EU institutions, national authorities and interest groups – all with widely differing agendas. Studying how the dynamics between these political actors result in specific environmental policies reveals much about the wider dynamics at play in the EU as a whole.

This important new text analyses the European Union's environmental policy, tracing how it has evolved to become today one of its largest fields of action. Using state-of-the-art analysis, it discusses in depth the relationship between policies and the political processes that shape them, and looks at how environmental policies are increasingly having a major impact on other policy fields, including energy, agriculture and transport. This book considers in detail the EU's policies in both traditional and 'new' environmental subdomains, including coverage of recent developments in terms of their content, approach and effectiveness. Throughout this clear and readable introduction to EU environmental policy, the authors emphasize the interdependence between what happens in the EU and at the global level. By establishing EU policies within the wider international context, they pay particular attention to the EU's role in global environmental governance, especially in relation to climate change.

Table of Contents


The European Union (EU) has developed one of the world’s most stringent sets of environmental policies in the course of a couple of decades. A complex framework of regulatory standards aiming to improve the state of the environment is in force in all major areas of environmental policy, including water or air pollution, chemicals regulation or the fight against climate change. The dense collection of environmental policy measures that are binding on twentyeight European countries, their populations and their industries shows that a relatively high level of environmental protection can be combined with an equally high level of economic development and growth. These policies are shaped, adopted and implemented through a complex governance system including various actors, different legal procedures and political practices, and multiple levels of governance.
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts

Chapter 1. The Evolution of EU Environmental Policy

The environmental policy of the European Union has undergone remarkable development. The founding fathers of the European integration project did not mention environmental policy in the first European treaties, as a result of which the legal basis for environmental protection was extremely limited. Nowadays, however, environmental policy is one of the largest and most important policy domains of the EU. Moreover, whereas the first steps of the development of EU environmental policy were a side effect of economic integration, it has evolved into a fully-fledged policy domain. The EU today has ‘the most comprehensive regional environmental protection regime in the world’ (Axelrod et al. 2011: 224).
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts

Chapter 2. The Global Context

In order to fully understand the environmental policies and politics of the EU, the global context in which European environmental policies emerged and are still embedded today needs to be taken into account. Situating the evolution of EU environmental policies and politics in the global context, this chapter makes it clear that the EU has been influenced by global dynamics and is not developing policies in a bubble. Fundamental processes of economic, political and environmental globalization considerably affect the EU’s environmental challenges as well as its policy responses. The aim of this chapter is to provide the essential contextual elements that help to explain the emergence of environmental policy as a domain in which the EU is very active.
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts

Chapter 3. Actors and Institutions

Who are the main actors in the EU that develop environmental policy? How do they function internally and what political dynamics determine their role in the formulation of EU environmental policy? This chapter addresses these questions by focusing on the five main institutions that develop European environmental policy, as well as on the agencies that play a particular role in the EU’s institutional architecture. The European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU, the European Council, the Court of Justice and the agencies (European Environment Agency and the European Chemicals Agency) are successively discussed. The interactions between these institutions determine the shape, scope and impact of the resulting environmental policy. These policy-making processes will be discussed in Chapter 4.
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts

Chapter 4. Policy-Making

This chapter explains how environmental policy is made in the EU. How do the EU’s institutions cooperate in order to formulate policies? And once environmental policy is adopted, how is it then implemented? The chapter is divided into two main parts. First, it examines the policy-making process leading to environmental legislation. This process starts with a proposal by the Commission and ends when the Council and the European Parliament have agreed upon a joint text. It discusses both the formal procedure as well as the increasingly informal practices that lead to so-called early agreements and make the adoption of environmental policy more efficient (but also less transparent) than the formal procedures suggest. The current chapter thus analyses the inter-institutional relations in the policy-making process (i.e. how do the institutions cooperate and interact?), whereas the intra-institutional relations of the policy-making process (i.e. how do the institutions function internally in that process?) were discussed in the previous chapter.
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts

Chapter 5. Lobbying and Interest Representation

Formally speaking, European environmental policies are made within the institutional framework presented in Chapter 3 and through the procedures discussed in Chapter 4. We argued in Chapter 3 that from a theoretical point of view the different actors and institutions that formulate environmental policies each represent a particular type of interest in the policy-making process. To put it simply, the Commission initiates policy proposals from the perspective of a collective European interest; the Council offers the institutional platform for the member states to represent their national interests in the process; and by co-deciding, the European Parliament allows for the incorporation of citizens’ interests. This does not, however, tell the entire story. Societal interests too are included in the policy-making process through lobbying activities of interest groups. Such interest groups are organizations that are politically active and that attempt to influence policies without having (or seeking) a political mandate (Beyers et al. 2008). They can present a broad scope of different interests, ranging from business to environmental ones.
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts

Chapter 6. Environmental Policy Instruments

Whereas the previous chapters discussed the politics and the policy-making processes behind EU environmental policy, the current and the following chapters focus on the policy content. Before turning to a substantive discussion of the main policy elements and political dynamics of various environmental subdomains in Chapters 7 to 9, this chapter is devoted to the instruments of EU environmental policy.
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts

Chapter 7. Traditional Sectors of Environmental Policy

The current and the two following chapters focus on the policy characteristics and political dynamics of specific policy areas, in the traditional sectors of environmental policy (this chapter), on genetically modified organisms (Chapter 8) and on climate change (Chapter 9). After an initial phase of ‘incidental’ policy measures related to the environment but primarily adopted in the framework of the common market, the EU started to establish a more comprehensive environmental policy in the 1970s (see Chapter 1). From those early beginnings, a sectorial or issue-based approach was developed, meaning that separate policies were adopted for specific environmental issues, such as air, water or nature protection.
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts

Chapter 8. GMO Policy

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are defined by the EU as ‘organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been altered not by reproduction and/or natural recombination, but by the introduction of a modified gene or a gene from another variety or species’ (European Commission 2014p). Agro-industry is the main developer and user of GMOs, for a number of reasons including better protection against fungi, insects and pests, better adaptation to temperatures, humidity or drought, and higher yields. But critics insist that GMOs can be harmful for the environment and human health, and that above anything else they serve higher profits for GMO developers. The quarrel between the supporters and the critics of GMOs not only characterizes the societal debate on GMOs in Europe, but it also has a crucial impact on EU policy-making processes relating to GMOs.
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts

Chapter 9. Climate Change Policy

The accumulated presence of carbon dioxide (CO2) and some other gases in the atmosphere causes average global air temperature to rise, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the greenhouse effect. The sources of those gases are both man-made and natural, but it is the anthropogenic sources (that are activities in industry, transport, agriculture, etc.) that have been growing on a dramatic scale. The increase in global air temperature unleashed a number of unseen and far-reaching climatic changes. Climate change will have — and is indeed already having — a range of impacts on weather patterns, food production, biodiversity and other areas, and is the main cause of a rising sea level (European Environment Agency 2015). For those alarming reasons, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in order to reduce human-induced climate change (mitigation) as well as efforts to cope with the consequences of climate change that are already irreversible (adaptation) have become priorities in global and European environmental politics. In the 2000s, climate change overtook every other environmental problem in terms of public concern, political attention and official agenda space.
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts

Chapter 10. The EU in International Environmental Politics

The EU is a major actor in international environmental politics. This chapter therefore focuses on the external dimension of EU environmental policy. Being a party to about fifty multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) (European Commission 2015g), the EU plays a key role in international negotiations on a broad range of environmental issues such as air, climate change, biodiversity and biosafety, chemicals, soil, water, sustainable development, forests or oceans (for an overview of the literature on the EU in international environmental politics, see Groen and Oberthür 2012). Some of the MEAs to which the EU is a party are global in nature (negotiated under the auspices of the UN), while others are regional (mostly under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, UNECE). Table 10.1 lists a selection of major MEAs to which the EU is a party.
Tom Delreux, Sander Happaerts
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