Environmental Policy in the EU. 3e.


Rating: ★★★☆☆

Andrew Jordan and Camilla Adelle. eds. 2013. Environmental Policy in the EU. Earthscan. ISBN 978 1 84971 469 3

It’s always interesting to see changes between editions. Reading concurrently the first and third edition of this text shows how far changes have been made and not just to the content. The first edition was a much needed look through the burgeoning field of EU environmental policy. This is still the case for the third edition but the text has changed in terms of readability for non-policy specialists; it’s more user-friendly. The editors have taken the opportunity of completely updating the topics (only 3 seem roughly similar) and contributors. As is said in the foreword and preface, this is not a positive time to be discussing environmental policy. What was described in the first edition as a “sophisticated, multi-level” set of policies looks like it might be swamped by the backlash brought about by the Global Financial Crisis and the internal problems that beset the EU at the moment. These are real threats because anyone working in this field for some time knows of the boom in the 1960s followed by the bust  of the early 1970s with similar and the 1980s/1990s. Unlike economic policy, environmental policy is always considered as a “bolt-on” luxury that can be discarded when times are tough. As anyone in this field well knows, such a mindset can be counter-productive; many environmental polices have real economic benefits.

We start with an overview outlining the three main areas of the text: context, actors and policies. Although this is similar to the first edition, the change of title from “processes” to “dynamics” is a telling one.  The very first years of the EU (or Common Market) had no environmental policy. It developed gradually as the need arose alongside the slow development of the EU itself. The rapid expansion of the EU has meant many more perspectives need to be taken into account and this, with increasing global sophistication of environmental measures has meant that the old, gentle ways of the past have given way to a more changeable system. For those new to this policy area, this first chapter provides help, references and an overview to subsequent contributions. The text is now divided into five parts.

The first part describes the development of environmental policy from its inception (when the word ‘environment’ was not even in the Treaty of  Rome). Initial attempts are described as ‘incidental’ with real development only taking place later on (perhaps with 1987 Single European Act). Two more chapters round out this section. One adds to the initial story by discussing the changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty. Such is the complexity we see now that even though this is 3 years old there are still pieces being enacted. A final contribution really gets to the heart of the issue by discussing academic attempts to analyse policy and actors. There are three main strands of research – international relations, public policy and governance. These present us with valuable insights but they also have their failings. Perhaps the biggest issue is that of implementation. Most policy studies consider making but not using or evaluating. since this is high-level policy sent down to the member states it seems fitting that we look at how well policy goes in practice (with a common answer being less well!).

Part two examines the roles of actors in EU policy making. Here, the focus of study is more predictable because we see the same set in domestic arenas. The key actors are the member states and the EU Council.  How the composition is made up and what influence they have is crucial in seeing policy enacted. Laggard states can delay or reduce the effectiveness of policy. On the positive side,  there is an Environment Council and the main Council takes in far more environmental policy decisions than used to be the case. Alongside the Council we have the European Commission with the realtively new Environment Directorate. We see this providing an increasingly important role in the EU as a whole although it produces sophisticated regulations the implementation is weaker, highlighting the role the member states play.  A third key actor in the European Court of Justice. It’s key job is provide judgements in the cases brought to it, largely for non-implementation by member states. The final EU body is the Parliament – a directly elected group who originally were seen as radical and environmentally pro-active although now, as they have more power, the reverse seems to be the case. Two final chapters deal with actors that have no direct affiliation with the EU or its organisation but whom wield considerable power – lobby groups and business.

Part three looks at the dynamics of the situation. It became clear in the preface that  EU dynamics can produce an extremely complex situation. Perhaps it is for this reason that rather than study specific policies of the EU, contributors take the policy process as their focus starting with agenda setting. Given the complexity of the EU, items that don’t make the agenda don’t even get discussed. Therefore, the political dynamics of the agenda become key grounds for study.  Interestingly, the study here looks at two elements – framing and venue – that determine whether an item is discussed further. The ‘framing’ side refers to the language of the policy whilst venue refers to the place chosen for the debate with the central thesis that to get support, you locate in a positive “camp”. If an issue ‘makes it’ it moves on to policy making. A former haphazard process has been tamed, at least in part, by using environmental impact assessments. We move on to policy coordination. The idea is that by examining ranges of policies we can see if conflict can arise (one policy cancelling out another, for example). The Environment Directorate has led the charge here but often against more traditional and entrenched EU views. One gets the impression that the biggest obstacle to EU policy is the EU! Policy implementation is the next stage. It’s a relatively new field of study but an increasingly important one as groups like NGOs dedicate themselves to keeping the system open and transparent. Finally, we get to evaluation although, as the contributor makes very clear, it’s an area the EU needs to work upon. There’s too much discussion and too little real effective policy. There remains just one dynamic and that is the EU is global policies.

Part four examines some of the challenges EU environment policy still needs to consider. A more sophisticated approach to policy making is seen as key where ‘regulation’ is the norm so far. To get support, the EU needs a public input but the very nature of the organisation makes it difficult to get close to that in practice with the exception of a few lobby groups. Similarly disappointing is the role of the EU in sustainable development. Part five provides a summary of the debates the book has raised.

There can be fewer areas difficult to study than EU policy. Access if nothing else is difficult so any text like this that seeks to make it understandable is to be welcomed. However, there’s more to this text than just useful coverage. In this edition, the editors have gone to great lengths to draw the reader in and make the complex understandable (if not simple). All chapters have a summary guide to start with a several summary points in the text summing up key sections. A set of questions at the end focusses the mind on key concepts whilst guides to further reading (key texts) and references (noted during the chapter) provide a useful check of learning and impetus to dig deeper. Overall this is a very good text. It makes the complex readable and provides the beginner with a very clear introduction to the subject.

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