Category Archives: EU/Europe

Eppur si muove…

It's alive!!!!!!

Timothy Garton Ash reassures us from the pages of The Guardian about the new-born EU Constitution – sorry, er… Lisbon Reform Treaty:

Now this amending treaty of Lisbon, modest and hedged about with qualifications though it is, should enable the union to work just a little bit better when – assuming all 27 member states ratify it – it comes into force in January 2009. But a noble constitutional document, comparable to that of the United States, it is not. It more nearly resembles the instruction manual for a forklift truck. In itself, it will do nothing to convince Europe’s citizens, or the rest of the world, of what the European Union is good for. But it will help the EU to do things that may convince them. Now that the end of this long, disappointing constitutional debate is at last in sight, it should free us to concentrate on what this union does, rather than what it is, or says it is. In fact, the EU will define what it is by what it does. 

Wonderful. While the US mantra on Iraq appears to be “Don’t pay attention to what we’re doing, just to what we’re saying“, TGA is telling us: “Don’t listen to what the EU is saying, just look at what it’s doing!

Strange world we live in. Call me unsophisticated, but whatever happened to “Turning words into deeds?


ECFR: a tale of premature senescence?

Looking on... Courtesy:

The European Council on Foreign Relations organised today its first briefing, presenting the results of a world-wide survey (PDF) conducted by Gallup International on the balance between hard and soft power. The survey covered a range of questions on the global influence of several international actors, including the EU, the US, China and India. Mark Leonard, Executive Director of the ECFR, chaired a somewhat drowsy panel that included Lord Desai, Robert Kagan and Ivan Krastev. The conclusions? Since the EU is the least hated of all the major powers, this should be interpreted as a sign that it should be given greater clout internationally. Alas, the newly-born think-tank gave away a strangely familiar smell of old habits.

A proper debate with the audience, packed with policy wonks and senior civil servants, never really kicked off. The elephants in the corner were carefully left dormant. If the EU has more power, what does this mean for the Member States? Can we realistically expect them to step aside and let go the reigns, especially those that have never really lost the appetite for world domination? And if it develops a stronger role internationally, will this come at the expense of its real (or perceived) soft power? And does all this matter at all, since the Commission has been promoting a stronger global role for the EU long before anyone was asked whether they supported it or not? How does this fit with the idea of a democratic Europe? Or is foreign policy – as Kagan was suggesting – something that should be still dealt with by the old boys in the corridors of power? None of these provocative questions was really raised during the debate.

Instead, discussion turned quickly to the US – why everyone hates it, why it doesn’t matter, why it should, etc. – while the topic of the EU was pushed aside. Clearly, even for the panelists there were more interesting subjects to discuss. To be fair, the ECFR made an effort to engage the broader public in the debate, for example by posting some interesting throughts on the survey (but receiving only 1 response at the time of writing). However, the briefing was strangely reminiscent of those dull Brusselite luncheons where everyone is too polite to start a proper discussion. The only one who did, Lord Desai, ranted on about a chart in the handouts, only to be gently told that he was reading it upside down, and then made some completely unfounded statements about how the Enlargement and the Single Market have failed (sic!). Everyone else sat silently in their dark suits (even the very few present women appeared dressed for a funeral). This was hardly stuff that gets people excited about the EU in the world.

Now, I know I am being a little harsh, but this is because I really think the ECFR has huge potential, and I want it to succeed. However, if it truly wants to rock the debate on Europe – especially in the UK – it’ll have to be a little more daring and provocative than today. So here are my 3 little suggestions to make the next event more captivating and perhaps memorable:

1. A more diverse panel: less pompous academics (notoriously allergic to criticism) and younger, more unconventional thinkers with strong and sustained views on the subject could have generated a much livelier debate, and perhaps generated 2-3 more challenging ideas about the role of Europe in the world. For example him. Or her.

2. A richer audience: I am not sure who everyone in the audience was, but if my understanding of English fashion doesn’t fail me, most were civil servants, press officers (not journalists) and the odd think-tank refugee. People from more diverse backgrounds (business, media, NGOs, even students) could have thrown in some hard questions at the survey and at the panel. In line with the ECFR’s stated objective of being truly 2.0, why not – for example – invite next time also a sample of some of the most provocative and interesting British Euro-bloggers (them, or him, to begin with)?

3. A cooler venue: the Foreign Press Association felt like one of those old boys’ clubs, where men used to go smoke cigars and discuss politics away from the madding crowds. The ECFR debates should happen instead in exciting new venues, where businessmen, artists, creators, or architects hang out, and where think-tanks rarely set foot. London is awash with exciting places where to hold events. One example for all, the Bloomberg Space:

Bloomberg Space, London

There, I said it all. Now let’s hope I haven’t just secured my banning from all future ECFR events…!

A new Euro-star is born

Europe at night - Copyright: Planetary Visions Ltd.; Courtesy: Kevin M. Tildsley

No, I am not talking about a new train (although the London-Paris Eurostar is about to be moved from Waterloo to King’s Cross, which is very exciting for me, since I live within walking distance of the station), but about a new pan-European initiative, headed by Mark Leonard, and staffed with lots of young bright things: the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Its purpose? Amongst others, to develop a more coherent and vigorous European foreign policy, in order to tackle an increasing number of global challenges, including climate change, world poverty, nuclear proliferation and the surge of violent extremism.

There haven’t been many interesting reactions to the birth of the ECFR within the blogosphere so far. Mark Leonard set the tone a few days ago as a guest-blogger on the Economist, while others – including the Dubliner Magazine, the Cult of the Dead Fish and Infowars – simply followed his lead, reproducing the press-release from the launch. Personally, I think the blogosphere should be more about opinion-making than info-replication, so here is my personal take on the new initiative.

Three things excite me about the ECFR. First: its young leadership and unreserved Europhilia, which brings a breath of fresh ideas and enthusiasm to a political debate about the future of Europe that has recently been – to say the least – soporific. Second: its decision to base its headquarters at the heart of the eurosceptic London and its satellite offices in Berlin, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Warsaw and Sofia. This will bring a truly pan-European perspective to the debates, allowing in particular the voices of the South and East to be heard, as opposed to the claustrophobic and incestuous rants of most Brussels-based think-tanks. Third, its very interactive website, blog-inspired, simple to access and to navigate, a sign that the ECFR is serious about taking to people, and is generally a modern, forward-looking organisation.

But while there are many reasons to celebrate, two aspects at least concerns me. The ECFR is heavily-backed by Soros, and while I personally like the man and his ideas, he has certainly made quite a few enemies across the European Neighbourhood. His involvement in the initiative is welcome, for it gives it financial viability, but the ECFR should also ensure it maintains a degree of separation between the issues it’s trying to tackle and the political interests of those who are backing it, lest it be quickly dismissed as Soros’ Council on Foreign Relations.

In addition, it is supported by a string of European politicians and analysts who are all-too-keen to see a stronger Europe in the world. While a more vigorous foreign policy might be the right answer to many of today’s global challenges, it should never come at the expense of Europe’s aimed neutrality, and of the recognition of its responsibilities towards the developing world, which call for caution every time we are tempted to undermine their sovereignty. Preventing genocide is of course admirable, but the last thing we need is another baton-wielding US, bullying nations into doing what we think is right (more often for us than for them). A respect for diversity should, above all, remain at the core of Europe’s foreign policy.

Having said that, I very much look forward to seeing the new star rise high above the other European constellations and I wish good luck to Mark and to all this team!

Babelblogs launched

On the savory topic of Web 2.0 as a social-change and political participation tool, café babel – the infamous online magazine for Europhiles and their chums – has just launched Babelblogs, a unique multilingual blogging platform in Europe.


  • Babelblogs are European: a unique European platform for blogging.
  • Babelblogs are multilingual: select your language and have your blog translated by other babelians
  • Babelblogs connect Europeans : we want to get Europeans together!

I am not entirely sure of how the system works, but it does look promising…

Italy’s buffoon

Beppe Grillo

To the outside observers, Italy is a country of majestic artworks, stunning landscapes, beautiful cities and delicious food. But to the insiders, all these appear trivial amenities compared to the ever-present decay of the country’s public and private sectors. Corruption is still rampant, despite the bout of inquiries and arrests that characterized the 1990s. Politicians and businessmen are often embroiled in obscure dealings surrounding company takeovers, sales or mergers. No one is ever found guilty, and even if someone is, the likes of him (for it is always a man) ending up in prison are pretty slim.

Given this picture, you would expect most media-savvy journalists to be up in arms, ready to seize the opportunity given by a political or commercial scandal to uncover some dirt, clean up the nation, and become rich and famous along the way. Instead, the tightly controlled Italian media (either in the hands of former PM Silvio Berlusconi, or under the watchful eye of the major political parties in power) appear generally more interested in the sexual habits of the country’s many showgirls, or in the latest fashion trends. Scandals gain complexity over time, like in the case of Parmalat’s collapse, and slowly become incomprehensible to the layman. People end up loosing interest in the matter. Eventually the spotlight turns to another scandal and a dark fog of silence descends on the entire affair. This way, the show can go on.

Not many people dare speak the truth, but one such man is Beppe Grillo. A comedian by profession, Grillo has long ago embarked on a crusade to do what other journalists don’t do: point an angry finger at those who are responsible for the ruinous state of the country. Banned for obvious reasons from performing on television, he has turned to the internet – and in particular to his blog, which Technorati ranks among the world’s 20 most visited blogs – to reach an even wider and more politically-motivated audience. Bloomberg’s Flavia Krause-Jackson and Chiara Remondini have written an excellent piece about his efforts to uncover bad management practices in Italy’s major companies.

“There are signs the public backlash against the excesses of public officials has started to effect change in Italy. Prime Minister Prodi, who met with Grillo shortly after winning the 2006 election, cut his own annual pay by 30 percent to 86,102 euros ($115,575), and extended the reductions to 102 ministers, deputies and undersecretaries. Italy’s ruling classes will need more than lower salaries to restore their reputations. That may explain why many of the 81 shows Grillo has scheduled for concert halls and small-town football stadiums this year have sold out.”

While in today’s colloquial language a buffoon denotes a ridiculous yet amusing person, in the Middle Ages the court jester performed an important political role, that of using irony and humorous metaphors to reprimand the king on his errors and advise him on policy matters. It was accepted norm that the buffoon should not be punished for his statements, for no one else was in a position to speak so bluntly to the ruler, lest he be charged with treason. Grillo is in every sense a modern buffoon, whose jests and mocking accusations should be heard more often by the Italian ruling and ruled classes alike.

The French candidates vs Globalization

Jose Bove' a la Rambo 

More on Europe’s 50th anniversary tributes/commentaries. As often is the case, some of the most thought-provoking articles come from outside the EU. In this one, published on the Yale Global websiteJean-Pierre Lehmann – professor of political international economy at the International Institute for Management Development – notes how France was once a prime mover of integration. But the nation has since become insecure and insular, and leading contenders in the French presidential race reflect the mood. “All this hardly bodes well for the future of France or for the future of Europe,” writes Lehmann. “This in turn may have a negative impact on the rest of the planet.”

What occurred in Europe in the late 1980s and 1990s was undoubtedly remarkable in its own right, yet European developments should also be seen in the much broader context of the “globalization revolution.” This revolution was marked by a series of simultaneous discontinuities, with the end of the Cold War as key landmark. While throughout most of the 20th century, the vast majority of people lived under highly restricted conditions of both political and economic freedom, by the beginning of the 21st century, reforms in China, India, Vietnam, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and more, and the global integration of markets that ensued, resulted, very suddenly, in the vast majority of people living in regimes of economic freedom and with increasing political freedom, or, in China and Vietnam, under a system that been termed “Market-Leninism.”


For France, which after 50-plus years of state-driven mollycoddling has become a nation of risk-averse functionaries, globalization has produced a terrible jolt. The French enjoyed the easy life: secure jobs, thanks to an inflexible labor market and protectionism, and in the last few years requiring no more than 35 hours of “toil” per week. Hence European enlargement and globalization tend to be perceived by the majority of the population as threats. Instead of reaching out, France has hunkered down. José Bové, the iconic moustachioed militant “peasant” leader, known for, among other things, having destroyed a McDonalds with a bulldozer and vandalized a Monsanto field of genetically modified crops, is also a presidential candidate and one of the most popular figures in the country: a contemporary Asterix!


If this aggressive inward-looking defensive stance were limited to “eccentrics” à la Bové, France would be okay; but it applies to virtually all the candidates, including the two main contenders, Nicholas Sarkozy on the right and Ségolène Royal on the left. Neither candidate has international experience, neither has studied abroad, neither can converse easily in English. In fact, never in the history of the 5th Republic has there been the prospect of so parochial a president.

Read the full article here and the companion to this article by Shada Islam here.

Tu Quoque, Margot?

Bad Escape?

As it turns out, our dear Margot Wallstrom is apparently attempting a ‘Louis Michel’ escape, having agreed to run a strategy group for Sweden’s opposition party in Europe, prompting the FT’s Andrew Bounds to ask: will the last Commissioner to leave please turn the lights off?

Well, that’s a bit unfair, actually. She’s apparently going to juggle both jobs. Clearly running an entire DG is not enough of a challenge for some…

Happy Birthday, Europe!

EU 25 flags 

This week the European Union turns 50. To mark the celebrations of the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations of the EU, the German government – which is currently holding the presidency of the Union – will throw a huge party in Berlin, the city which above all symbolises the unity of Europe (see Anglofritz’s rundown for more details). Yet, behind the smiles and grand declarations of Angela Merkel, there appears to be little to be festive about. Or is there?

Well, there isn’t much fervour in Margot Wallstrom’s entry on the subject. You’d expect the Commissioner for Communication to sound bombastic about it, yet she talks about the Constitution and the birthday celebrations with a similar degree of disenchantment, one stemming perhaps from her busy travel schedule, but which still makes me wonder: if the Communication Commissioner isn’t particularly excited about it, who else should be?

Certainly not Humanitarian Aid and Development Commissioner Louis Michel, who will take a one-month unpaid leave of absence from the Commission while seeking to re-enter politics in his native Belgium. Clearly, for many top Eurocrats, the idea that a career inside the EU with a chance to improve the lives of billions of people living in poverty around the world might be more significant and rewarding than playing a role – even a relative one – in a minuscule European kingdom is still unthinkable.

With such role models, it comes as no surprise then that Europeans appear more sceptical about the unification project now than ever before. The rejection of the Constitutional Treaty has thrown the EU’s institutions – first and foremost the Commission – in a state of stunned disbelief. Although all politicians (especially from Germany) keep saying that approving the Constitution is a precondition for any further political development, especially further enlargement – which no one, not even existing or potential candidate countries seeem to want any longer – few have yet come up with a sensible idea about how to do this in practice. And indeed, for many the debate is very much a red herring. The problem – they say – is not the Constitution. The problem is the Union itself.

Member States’ political leaders have already started loading their guns, even if they don’t have any bullets yet. Take David Cameron’s uninspiring propositions, for example:

“Just as member states have in the past agreed to transfer competences to the EU, so it should be possible to move in the opposite direction. How can we enshrine the principle that powers can be returned to member states — not as a vague aspiration, but as a central element of the legal architecture of the Union? What are the tasks that we can return to national or local governments?”

In a classic of Tory politics, Cameron is trying to secure all the advantages Europe can give Britain (an open market where Britich capital can flow freely), without having to pay the costs for them (upholding social Europe, allowing human capital flows and committing to policy coordination inside and outside the Union). He wants the cake and eat it. Who can blame him, when the Labour government has hardly pressed for significant changes in the way the country perceives the benefits of EU membership? The UK is not only displaying the most vitriolic Euroscepticism inside the EU, which is often entirely misguided, but also blocking any political impetus for change, which would allow Europe to take off as a real political and economic force.

Salvation won’t come from France either. With Chirac out of the game, you’d expect one of the 3 main candidates to take on the pro-European mantle. Instead, what we got so far is an impressive realignment with British tactics, where the EU is (unjustly) blamed as scapegoat for France’s economic problems. And hope won’t come from any of the other Old Members States’ political leaderships. Prodi is too worried about reviving Italy’s dire economy, while Zapatero can be pleased about Spain’s growth performance, set to overtake Italy’s by 2009, but has troubles dealing with a Spanish electorate concerned about his national credentials due to his ‘softness’ towards separatist terrorists. I doubt Poland’s or other New Member States’ leaderships will fare better, although they have all to gain from further integration.

The picture looks bleak. The BBC half-heartedly tries to convince us that Europe DID do something for us after all, but is quick to point out that a little too much money is being spent on the birthday celebrations (what did you expect, spontaneous parties to break out in the streets, when all people hear from the media is how bad the EU is for us?). The Economist’s Edward Lucas gives up, and suggests that the only thing keeping us together is our contradictions, which is hardly an inspiring thought when trying to strengthen a sense of internal cohesion.

And while the Commission is rightly pushing forward the environmental agenda as an integration tool with clear political rather than ecological motivations, it is still incapable of bridging the democratic gap and engaging citizens directly in policy-formulations, preferring consultations which are at best huge exercises in naval-gazing. Instead of incresing its presence where people can most benefit from it – for example by expanding the network of Europe Direct offices, drop-in centres where people can find useful information about the EU – the Commission has decided instead to open an embassy on Second Life, in the vane hope that there at least people will take an interest in what the EU is doing for them.

The truth is, the European Union is doing much more for us Europeans and the wider world than most would give it credit for, and this is very much Europe’s birthday as it is the EU’s birthday. Sure, a lot more can be done, but this anniversary should be a time to celebrate, not recriminate. After all, if the US and UK are capable of spinning even their worst foreign policy disaster in recent history, why should the EU continue this absurd self-flagellation exercise?

To begin with, the EU – through the Single European Market – has brought unthinkable business opportunities to many European firms, who are now operating across borders and are embracing the challenges of economic globalization from an advantegous position. The Single Market, according to the Commission, has helped create 2.5 million new jobs in Europe and generated €800 billion in additional wealth since 1993. After enlargement in 2004, firms selling in the Single Market zone are now able to access more than 450 million consumers with incresingly low barriers to trade. It has also provided better consumer protection and promoted the right to study and work anywhere inside the Union. An entire generation of us has benefited from this amazing opportunity, and many more to come will continue to do so.

Then, there is the common foreign and security policy, on which I have ranted before, but which in a nutshell is the single biggest step we have ever taken towards a perpetual peace in Europe. A lot of people take this for granted now, but things were not so obvious 50 years ago, as the spectrum of war and genocide still lingered heavily over the continent. Before the integration project started, what Metternich said about Italy could have just as easily been said about Europe: that is was a mere geographical expression. Peace through integration remains the most important contribution the EU has made to Europe, as Timothy Garton Ash never fails to remind us, alongside freedom, law, prosperity, solidarity and diversity.

And it is in this final concept – diversity – that I find most hope for the future of the EU, seeing how our continent (and the entire planet) is becoming increasingly globalised, with not just dollars and euros, but also people, ideas, cultures, races, faiths and beliefs crossing borders at increasingly accelerated speed. Globalization is happening all around us, and whether we like it or not, we cannot stop it. The EU is helping us adapt to this challenge, first of all by reproducing a mini-globalization process around us, by which we have to learn how to live side by side, tolerating our differences, embracing our diversities in a spirit of mutual respect. 

The EU is making sure for example that discriminatory bills like the recent homophobic one in Poland, which added a whole new dimension to the love which dare not speak its name – in the sense that if a teacher says the word ‘homosexuality’ in class, she’ll get fired – are assessed and if necessary shot down. Most of us have a lot to gain from these regulations, not just homosexuals, but also women, racial and religious minorities, disabled people, economic migrants and older people – in a word, all Europeans who are not white, middle class, middle aged, straight, able men. And not just Europeans. The EU’s soft power – stemming from the principles it represents, the human rights it defends, the carrots of enlargement and maket access and all the other policies it promotes inside and outside its borders – is slowly changing the way the world operates. It might not be as loud and brash a strategy as America’s hard power, but then is that such a bad thing?

After all, as widely known, the sound of one tree falling is greater than the sound of a whole forest growing.

International environmental regimes: a success story of the EU’s external promotion of internal values?

European Light Pollution - courtesy: 

If an alien civilization had landed on Planet Earth on the 16th of February 2005, on the day the Kyoto Protocol on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) came into force, it would have been told that an environmental climatic breakdown was about to happen, that the planet’s days were numbered, but that at least one international power was leading the way in trying to save it: the European Union (EU).

The aliens would have probably left hastily, concerned they might drown in the rising seas, but relieved that at least one polity was taking the issue seriously, putting values before economic interests and providing crucial leadership in safeguarding the planet’s future. Their impression would be somewhat incomplete. The EU has not always been this beam of environmentalism. Far from it, it moved from the margins of the debate in the 1970s to centre stage in the 21st century. But what drove this shift? And does it reflect a coherent set of political priorities?

In this essay I will argue that assessing the successes of the EU’s environmental policies requires a more nuanced approach, one that takes into account the political ecology of environmentalism, as well as the peculiarities of the Union’s policy-making process. I will first outline how the EC/EU’s environmental policy (EEP) has changed in the context of the events that have shaped today’s international environmental regimes (IERs). I will then discuss how this shift is the result of a policy-making process, partially driven by some ‘pioneer’ Member States (MS), and partially by the desire to harmonize regulations inside the single market. I will look at how this has resulted in a number of externalities for the EU’s neighbours and trading partners, before some final considerations on the construction of environmental values, and the impact these have on developing countries.

From laggard to leader

Regimes can be defined as ‘social institutions that consist of agreed upon norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that govern the interaction of actors in specific issue areas’ [Young: 5-6]. In this sense, environmental regimes have been around for centuries, as the numerous examples of shared management systems of common natural resources testify . But when it comes to IERs, in the sense of binding agreements between nation-states, these are more recent , and pressure to establish them rose significantly after the 1960s, as a consequence of public concerns about the use of toxic substances, the increasing levels of pollution and the depletion of natural resources.

As the first environmental wave peaked in 1972, the foundations of a global environmental governance system were laid at the Stockholm UN Conference on the Human Environment. Three states were at the forefront of this first attempt to address global environmental challenges: Japan, Sweden and the US. Their ‘examples and experience became catalysts in the first phase of modern environmental policy’ [Andersen & Liefferink: 4]. Until then, the European Community (EC) had shown little interest in environmental matters, but under mounting pressure, the Council agreed to start taking the issue on board.

At the 1972 Paris Summit it asked the Commission to draw its first Environmental Action Plan (EAP), which was published the following year. But it was only fourteen years later that the environment – now incorporated into the Single European Act – became a formal area of EC/EU legislation. Since then, five further EAPs have been drawn, hundreds of environmental laws passed, and countless papers published to promote a greener, more sustainable Union.

This dramatic internal evolution marked an equally dramatic external shift in the EC/EU’s stand on global environmental challenges. The EC ‘is now signatory of around 60 multilateral environmental agreements, ranging from regional conventions on seas and watercourses to global agreements such as the convention … on Biodiversity and Desertification … and is a formidable participant in global environmental negotiations’ [Vogler: 839-840].

This policy shift was crucial for the establishment of the two most important IERs: those on reducing substances that deplete the ozone layer and those on curbing the emission of gases implicated in global warming. In the former case, after a recalcitrant start behind the US, the EU ‘played a key role in brokering [an international] agreement, a body of EU laws was quickly adopted and the global production of ozone-depleting substances by the mid-1990s had declined by 80-90 percent’ [McCormick: 262].

In the latter case, the EU’s role was even more significant. By the early 1990s, the Commission had decided it was going to be at the front of the international response to the challenge of global warming. From the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol Amendment to the UN FCCC, the EU positioned itself as a leading proponent of cutting greenhouse gases. When the newly-elected Bush administration rejected the protocol in 2001, it was only thanks to the EU’s determination that the protocol provisions survived and eventually entered into force in 2005: ‘whatever the failings of the CFSP … here at least was a vindication of the aspirations of the Union to become an actor in world politics’ [Vogler & Bretherton: 1].

A shared vision?

Based on these considerations, we might conclude that the EU did indeed succeed in promoting its environmental values internationally. But can we really speak of an EEP? John McCormick argues that ‘the EU has occasionally had an idiosyncratic notion of what constitutes an environmental issue’ [McCormick: 18]. The Commission’s Environment Directorate General (DG) is responsible for most of the issues conventionally defined as environmental (air/water pollution and waste management), but not all (fisheries conservation, control of pesticides, forestry, organic farming all fall under different DGs). Additionally, it is responsible for areas not usually associated with the environment, such as noise pollution and civil protection.

These divisions have long-ranging implications for how environmental policies are developed, implemented and externalised. Since the treaties and ECJ rulings have not clarified under whose remit EEP should be, the way in which certain issues are defined raises complex issues of competence within the Commission and between the Commission and the MS. In some cases the Commission has sole competence , but in others separating an environmental deliberation from its trade implications is much more complex. There are ‘political and practical difficulties in defining the boundaries between domestic and external policy, and economic and non-economic policy. [Consequently], it is usually unclear where competence for negotiations with third parties lies’ [McCormick: 265].

The resulting mixed agreements, signed by the EC and MS alike, can hardly be described as the promotion a coherent EEP . In fact, it is often during international negotiations to establish environmental regimes that different normative understandings of environmental policies between MS come to the fore. These discrepancies ‘relate not only to the general priority attached to environmental policy, but also to the [related] strategies and concepts that have been developed in a national context’ [Andersen & Liefferink: 6]. The different regulatory styles, which often reflect different policy-making styles, inform the way MS approach environmental regimes nationally and internationally.

A number of intergovernmentalist theorists, in addition, have stressed the importance of domestic politics in the shaping of environmental policies, which appear to have been strongly influenced by the interests of a few ‘pioneer states’ like Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian MS. Behind these interests lie a number of factors, such as the pressure exerted by some domestic constituencies to take the lead on environmental matters (reciprocity or two-level game), the need to ensure that the other MS adapted to their ‘higher’ standards, and not vice-versa (regulatory competition), or simply the pressure to build strategic alliances with other MS and insert certain issues onto the agenda as a bargaining tool in exchange for other, more pressing, concessions (pusher strategy) . According to these theorists, the growing importance of the EEP is a direct consequence of the intricacies of the EU’s policy-making process, rather than the reflection of an internal value-system.

There are at least two counterarguments to this position. Firstly, institutionalist theorists would point at the spectacular turnaround performed by the EU in its shift from foot-dragger to global leader in environmental issues. This move would reflect the desire by the Commission to carve out a greater international political space for itself at the expenses of MS. Secondly, neofunctionalist analysts have argued that ‘much of what the EU has done in the environmental field has been spillover from its primary concern of building the single market’ [McCormick: 18]. The harmonization of environmental regulations was a necessary step in the removal of those non-tariff barriers which were distorting the workings of the single market, but ‘the implementation of [these] measures […] was inevitably going to impact upon trade, investment and other flows across national boundaries’ [Bretherton & Vogler: 85].

This pressure has been felt on the one side by the EU’s neighbours, who have had to comply with sets of regulations because they share natural resources with the Union , on the other by its global trading partners, whose ‘access to the market requires the attainment of certain environmental standards’ [ibid.: 96-7]. Above all, the external impact of the EEP has been felt by those countries wishing to join the EU, who have had to ‘upgrade environmental protection, social development and economic growth by adopting some 300 legislative acts constituting the Union’s environmental acquis’ [Vogler: 842]. In the Commission’s view, in fact, enlargement ‘may … be the biggest single contribution to global sustainable development that the EU can make’ [ibid.].

Whose values?

John Vogler has argued that the EU has played and will continue to play a key role in setting international environmental regimes. It will do so by disseminating its own environmental norms and standards, including by integrating them in its other policy areas which have a strong external dimension, such as trade and international development. The sheer size of its single market, combined with the environmental traditions of some of its MS, guarantees the EU will retain a central role in the future promotion of IERs.

But it is the ideational field, in which values about nature are constructed and the appropriate relationship between mankind and the environment developed, that the EU will retain most of its influence, and it is surprising that this aspect has received very little attention to date. ‘Some of the mainstays of [the EU’s] internal policy development – the precautionary principle, the idea that the polluter pays, the proximity principle …, and the norm that environmental protection should be integrated into other policy areas – have gained currency beyond the borders of the single market’ [Harris: 843].

The EU is in a powerful position to shape the norms and values that set the boundaries of the debate about what is an environmental problem and how we should conceptualise sustainable development. As the largest aid donor in the world and the seat of some of the most powerful environmental NGOs, it is also well placed to enforce its own norms regardless of whether everyone else agrees with them.

For many developing nations, the historical emergence in Europe of ideas related, for example, to conservation strategies has had huge implications for how they have been able to access and manage their resources. Yet, many of these ideas, far from being based on sound scientific evidence, have risen as ‘an intellectual reaction against Victorian economic liberalism, against industrialization and urbanization, and against the loss of valued features of the environment’ [Adams: 277].

The first environmentalists translated their unease at the speed of modernisation into concern for the disappearance of the countryside, a concern that was soon exported to the territories under European domination. The colonial rulers combined their distress about environmental preservation with romanticised notions of nature in the tropics as an unspoilt paradise needing protection. The concept of conservation became an expression ‘of a rationalizing project engaged in … organizing the relations between humans and nature’ [Adams: 278]. These concepts re-emerged later during the twentieth century, when increasing modernization prompted the ‘emergence of a narrative of “nature” … influenced by the growth of industries and cities’ [Forsyth: 108]. Many of these ideas still dominate much of the EU thinking on environmental conservation and sustainable development, and are translated into normative priorities implemented through, for example, Association Agreements.

In conclusion, we need to remind ourselves that the influence of the EU in the shaping of environmental regimes might represent a success story for its growing political clout on the world stage, reflected in the leadership assumed by the EU during the negotiations for the UN FCCC and the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. This success, however, is the reflection of multiple layers of political interests and can generate the diffusion of values and ideas that might not necessarily be in the interest of the environment and/or of the people who inhabit it.


  • Adams, W.M. (1997) ‘Rationalization and Conservation: Ecology and the Management of Nature in the United Kingdom’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers – Volume 22 Issue 3 pp 277-288 – September 1997
  • Andersen, Mikael Skou & Liefferink, Duncan [ed.]: European environmental policy: the pioneers, Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 1997;
  • Brenton, Tony: The greening of Machiavelli – evolution of international environmental politics, London: Earthscan Publications, 1994;
  • Bretherton, Charlotte and Vogler, John: The European Union as a global actor, London; New York: Routledge, 1999;
  • Damro, Chad & Méndez, Pilar Luaces: Emissions Trading at Kyoto: From EU Resistance to Union Innovation, Environmental Politics 12, 2 (Summer 2003): 71-94
  • Forsyth, Timothy: Critical political ecology – the politics of environmental science, New York, London: Routledge, 2003
  • Jupille, Joseph, & Caporaso, James A.: States, Agency, and Rules: The EU in Global Environmental Politics, in C. Rhodes (ed.) The European Union in the World Community, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998 – p. 213-29;
  • Lenschow, Andrea: Environmental Policy: Contending Dynamics of Policy Change, in Helen Wallace, William Wallace and Mark Pollack, Policy-Making in the European Union (5th edition, OUP, 2005), chapter 12;
  • McCormick, John: Environmental policy in the European Union, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave, 2001;
  • Vogler, John: The European contribution to global environmental governance, in International Affairs, 81, 4 (2005) 835-850;
  • Vogler, John & Bretherton, Charlotte: The European Union as a Protagonist to the United States on Climate Change, in International Studies Perspectives 7(1): 1-22;
  • Young, Oran [ed.]: Global governance: drawing insights from the environmental experience, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997.

London Festival of Europe

The Rape of Europa, Titian - Oil on canvas, 1559-1562 

‘The London Festival of Europe aims to catalyse public debate about European realities.

For two weeks in March 2007 the centre of London will be host to philosophers, political theorists, artists and curators who will engage a public audience in discussion of the multiplicity of European questions’.

The lecture topics are hugely interesting and list of speakers impressive, ranging from Patrick Diamond and Katinka Barysch on European social models, who had already impressed me during a lecture on Europe in the Global Age back in October, to Ollvier Delbard and Caspar Henderson on Europe and the Environment.