The Union Versus Member States

There is an intricate system of policymaking in the EU, which leaves room for member states to encourage or discourage the creation of environmental policy based on their own national needs and attitudes (Anderson and Liefferink, 1997, p. 9). Overall, the relationship between the Union and national interests when creating environmental policy can be described as reciprocal.

Although the EU is a voluntary arrangement, it is unlikely that any country would leave, because the economic ties within the Union would make it extremely costly (McCormick, 1999, p. 124). However, member states are protected by certain legal provisions, including unanimity voting. The introduction of subsidiarity after the Treaty of Amsterdam also allows the member states to guard their sovereignty in specific categories of environmental policy, including fiscal provisions, measures concerning land use, planning of towns and country and management of water sources, as well as measures regarding the member state's choice about energy sources (Léveque, 1996, p. 14).

Over the years, some countries have earned reputations for being "greener," while others are considered laggards in their views and motivation on environmental policy. Among the "green" countries, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands have been recognized for their pioneering role in the Union. In the 1980s, Germany earned a reputation for being the "engine" of EU environmental policy and, with the rise of the Green Party in national policy, proposed a combination of extreme and relatively harmonized solutions to EU problems. Germany is committed to being a part of the EU and has a strong position economically and politically in the Union (Anderson and Liefferink, 1997, pp. 26-27).

Denmark's presence in the EU has been somewhat reluctant, but their concern for the environment is seen specifically in their desire to maintain extremely high standards. Denmark is responsible for the introduction of Article 100A(4), which allows member states to maintain high levels of environmental protection even when EU regulations are less stringent. Recently, as the EU standards have risen, Denmark has taken a more active role in policymaking and has allowed the European Environmental Agency to be located in Copenhagen.

The Netherlands, although small, has had a significant amount of influence through its development of ambitious domestic policies, known as National Environmental Policy Plans (NEPP). The Fifth European Action Plan was modeled after the preceding Dutch NEPP. The Netherlands has recognized that its own desires to maintain high standards must be balanced by a need to get Union agreement, a distinct contrast with the typical Danish view.

More recently, Finland, Sweden, and Austria have become the leaders in environmental policy and protection since they joined the Union in 1995. Finland has not always maintained an active environmental policy in the past, and it was considered more of a follower in environmental issues until it created a Ministry of the Environment in 1983. However, Finland was the first country to enforce a tax on CO2 emissions, despite the Finns' often humble attitude toward taking initiative (Anderson and Liefferink, 1997, pp. 21-25).

Sweden has always played an important role in international environmental policy; it hosted the UN's Stockholm conference in 1972, which encouraged the EU

to create their own environmental regulations. Sweden is also involved in other international environmental organizations and supports the Stockholm Environmental Institute—an international network of independent institutes that work to find environmental solutions. Since joining the EU, Sweden had been able to (a) promote its ambitious environmental goals in a more formal manner and (b) positively improve the status of environmental policy at an international level.

Austria, the third country to join in 1995, consolidated its environmental laws in the 1980s. Most notable has been Austria's concern about the ozone layer, which led to the 1985 Vienna Convention and has made Austria a leader in the area of EU transport laws and the goals to reduce NOx emissions from trucks by 60%.

The other states within the EU find themselves in a position to either (a) follow in the footsteps of the mentioned leaders or (b) oppose their high environmental standards. The most resistance has come from countries such as Greece, Portugal, and Spain, none of whom had an environmental ministry when they joined the EU in the 1980s. These and other less environmentally oriented countries tend to have varying positions on environmental topics, opposing those policies that they feel will harm their domestic economies while only occasionally making the environment a priority (Anderson and Liefferink, 1997, pp. 21-24). However, since the introduction of majority voting on environmental policy and the addition of the environmentally conscious member states, the tendency for laggard and middle states to be brought along environmentally has significantly increased (Grant et al., 2000, p. 29).

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