In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The European Union and Environmental Policy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Books
  • Journals
  • Reference Works

Environmental Science The European Union and Environmental Policy
David Benson, Andrew Jordan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0063


Although manifestly not a state, the European Union (EU) has evolved from its origins as a trade-based economic organization to become a supra-national political body that regulates across multiple policy sectors in a state-like manner. Nowhere is this regulatory influence more pronounced than in relation to the environment, where the EU now effectively determines the national policy of its member states in areas as diverse as air quality, water pollution, habitat protection, and genetically modified organisms. Countries outside of the EU are also increasingly influenced by its policy norms. Indeed, the EU is widely recognized as an international environmental policy entrepreneur, particularly in relation to climate policy. What is even more remarkable is that this broad environmental acquis communautaire, or corpus of policy and law, has been assembled in the space of just four decades. Up until the early 1970s, environmental concerns were primarily governed at the national and/or sub-national levels in Europe. Environmental measures that were adopted by the European Economic Commission (EEC) were overtly aimed at trade harmonization within a common market. As new, and more costly, regulatory measures were adopted, conflicts erupted with member states. These battles continued into the 1990s, with member states invoking the principle of subsidiarity to slow down the pace of integration. By the 2000s, EU policy had reached a state of maturity. Despite attempts by more economically liberal governments and industrial actors to roll back policy expansion, the EU sought to shift the emphasis of policymaking toward more holistic responses to sustainable development issues. Economic austerity has, to an extent, slowed the pace of policy expansion but the future of the sector is likely to witness greater experimentation with novel policy instruments and a gradual merging of environmental, climate and energy policy objectives. In this respect, EU environmental policy remains a work in progress. A growing literature on these topics has emerged since the late 20th century. Firstly, several key texts have been published to provide an overview of the sector. Secondly, the literature has also focused more specifically on political decision-making, including the institutional aspects of policymaking. Thirdly, scholars have researched individual policies or policy subsectors, often using them to understand integration through time. Fourthly, empirical work has formed the basis of theory testing or theory building, using perspectives imported from comparative (national) politics and European integration. Finally, research has engaged with the process of environmental governing across multiple institutional levels, including understanding the implementation of measures and how member states are being Europeanized. This overview of the published literature is structured according to these strands.

General Overviews

Several key texts have provided general overviews of the development of EU environmental policy. One of the most accessible but detailed overviews is Jordan and Adelle 2013 and, more recently, Selin and VanDeveer 2015b. Together with Delreux and Happaerts 2016 they summarize the key actors, processes, and policies. Finally, a concise discussion of these points is Benson and Jordan 2016.

  • Benson, David, and Andrew Jordan. 2016. Environmental policy. In European Union politics. 5th ed. Edited by Michelle Cini and Nieves Pérez-Solórzano Borragán, 323–336. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Textbooks on the European Union are numerous but the title edited by Michelle Cini and Nieves Pérez-Solórzano Borragán is a recognized market leader. The chapter on environmental policy examines its historical development, main institutions, and policy dynamics, along with illustrative examples.

  • Delreux, Tom, and Sander Happaerts. 2016. Environmental policy and politics in the European Union. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.

    Bringing debates on EU environmental policy up to date, Tom Delreux and Sander Happaerts provide an analysis of its historical development, actors, and institutions. Policy dynamics in established and emerging areas are also discussed.

  • Jordan, Andrew, and Camilla Adelle. 2013. Environmental policy in the EU: Actors, institutions and processes. London: Earthscan Routledge.

    This edited textbook, now in its third edition, draws together contributions from leading authors in the field to provide different perspectives on policy evolution, actors, dynamics, and future challenges.

  • Knill, Christoph, and Duncan Liefferink. 2011. Environmental politics in the European Union: Policy-making, implementation and patterns of multi-level governance. Manchester, UK: Manchester Univ. Press.

    An excellent introductory overview of this policy sector; this book provides historical context to environmental policy before outlining patterns of regulation, main institutions and actors, political processes, and interests. The implementation and effectiveness of policy is also examined.

  • Lenschow, Andrea, and Carina Sprungk. 2010. The myth of a green Europe. Journal of Common Market Studies 48.1: 133–154.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5965.2009.02045.x

    The “myth” of a “green Europe,” it is suggested, has been actively promoted by the EU to enhance its legitimacy among the public. Andrea Lenschow and Carina Sprungk take a wide perspective on this issue in examining how and how effectively the EU has propagated this myth through developing environmental policies.

  • Selin, Henrik, and Stacy VanDeveer. 2015a. Broader, deeper and greener: European Union environmental politics, policies, and outcomes. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 40:309–335.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-102014-021210

    Taking a broad brush overview of four decades of EU environmental policy development, this article analyzes: the transfers of authority from the national to supranational levels; the participation of different non-state actors in EU policymaking; the development of new forms of governance; the influence of the EU on state policy; the EU’s engagement in global environmental governance; and the effects of EU policy on the environment within Europe and globally.

  • Selin, Henrik, and Stacy VanDeveer. 2015b. European Union and environmental governance. London: Routledge.

    A new entrant to this subject area, the text covers different theoretical approaches to European integration, the historical growth of the sector, policy actors and instruments, decision-making and implementation, policy case studies, the external dimensions of policy, and future developments.

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