Environmental policy on the way to Brussels : the issue of acidicification between the Netherlands and the European community

J.D. Liefferink

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


<p>The process of European integration is marked by a dynamic and often controversial balance between member state autonomy and supranational. decision making. Within the European Community (EC), enviromnental policy has in the past 25 years emerged as one of the major fields of activity. This study deals with the interrelations and shifts in enviromnental policy making between the national and the EC levels. More precisely, it is guided by the following basic questions:<p><em>To what extent and in which way did the increasing involvement of the European Community in environmental policy making lead to increasing interrelation and interaction between environmental policy making at the EC level and the member state level? To what extent did such changes lead to a shift of policy making processes from the national to the EC level? Mich forces stimulated or hampered this development?</em><p>The first part of the book (chapters 2-4) attempts to develop a theoretical framework for the study of environmental policy making in the EC. On the basis of a comparison of the major schools of thought in international relations theory it is concluded that the model of Complex Interdependence offers the best starting point for this purpose. In order to assess the dynamics of different kinds of international interdependence and cooperation, furthermore, a dissection of the concept of sovereignty into four dimensions is proposed. It turns out, however, that neither Complex Interdependence theory nor other theoretical models are sufficiently equipped for the analysis of 'day-to-day' enviromnental policy making in the Community and the shifting relations between domestic and EC political processes. This has to do among other things with the hybrid status of the Community, oscillating between a customary international organisation and a federation. As an analytical tool at the meso-level ( <em>i.e.</em> below the level of macro-theories of the state and of international relations) the notion of policy networks is proposed. The 'Europeanisation' of policy can then be considered as the build-up of policy networks that increasingly interlace the domestic and the Community level along the four dimensions of powerdependence: policy focus, membership, vertical and horizontal interdependence.<p>The second part of the study (chapters 5-9) contains a qualitative case study of the policies in the field of air pollution and acidification in the EC and in the Netherlands from the 1970s to the early 1990s. It describes in considerable detail the decision making processes around five related policy issues. The first air pollution measure taken by the Community was the regulation of the sulphur content of gas oil. Attempts to control also the sulphur content of other types of fuel failed. A second issue of the 1970s was the establishment of air quality standards. Three directives were the result: one for sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates, one for lead, and one for nitrogen dioxide. The two issues that would dominate air pollution policy in the 1980s - the 'clean' car and the large combustion plants - were brought on the agenda by the rise of the issue of acidification around 1982, particularly in Germany but also in other member states including the Netherlands. Both issues gave rise to long negotiations and serious controversies among the member states. The 'clean' car issue led to a considerable tightening of emission standards and the introduction of catalytic converters, initially only in large cars and later also in small and medium-size models. A framework directive for industrial air pollution was adopted in 1984. The sulphur and nitrogen emissions from electricity plants, refineries and other large industrial ovens were eventually regulated in a directive containing different emission targets for each member state as well as a considerable number of other exemptions. Finally, the case study pays attention to a case of non-policy at the EC level: the emission of ammonia, particularly by agricultural sources.<p>The findings of the case study are interpreted in the terms of the theoretical framework in the third part (particularly chapter 10). It appears that a focus on the economic aspects of environmental policy problems quite consistently prevailed at the EC level, whereas basic decisions with respect to the ecological aspects were taken domestically. Public and private actors, formerly working only at the domestic level, were getting increasingly involved in EC decision making. This went together with the more far-reaching impact of policy measures on economic life in the member states since the 1980s. Differences of interest between industrial actors were reflected in Euro-groups and hampered effective lobbying. Direct participation in Brussels of enviromnental organisations was restricted particularly by the strongly economic policy focus and by the minor importance at the EC level of one of their principal resources, political legitimacy. As a result, the national government continued to play a pivotal role in the mediation of interests from the domestic level to Brussels. This position was principally based on its control of powerful legal resources, notably the member states' full or near veto right in the Council of Ministers. Domestic agreement among public and private actors about the standpoints to be taken in the Council - and often about domestic policies as well - thus became almost a prerequisite for entering EC negotiations. Also coordination with other policy fields was accomplished mainly at the domestic level.<p>On this basis it is concluded that, as far as the Netherlands were involved, EC policies in the field of air pollution and acidification continued to be essentially an additional stage after domestic decision making. Common measures primarily functioned to avoid or limit distortions of conditions of trade and competition resulting from the establishment of national environmental objectives and policies. The Europeanisation of the policy field thus mainly entailed the pooling of sovereign powers in the economic dimension, whereas national sovereignty in the ecological dimension was hardly affected. In member states where domestic environmental policies are less developed than in for instance the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, however, environmental policies designed at the EC level may more directly interfere with national sovereignty in the ecological dimension.<p>In the epilogue (chapter 11), the theoretical and empirical approach of the study is evaluated and the prospects of enviromnental policy making in the European Union are explored. It is argued, among other things, that growing economic and ecological differences within the Union, particularly due to the accession of new member states from Northern and Central Europe, may on the longer term lead to more differentiation of enviromnental policies.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Nooij, A.T.J., Promotor
Award date19 Apr 1995
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789054853695
Publication statusPublished - 1995


  • government policy
  • environmental policy
  • environmental legislation
  • air pollution
  • soil pollution
  • water pollution
  • environment
  • environmental impact
  • sociology
  • environmental protection
  • environmental management
  • precipitation
  • acid rain
  • netherlands
  • european union countries
  • human impact


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