Europe Day

As part of Europe Day on 9 May 2013, the Conservation Governance Laboratory at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, organised a panel discussion co-sponsored by the School of Geography and the Environment and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

A distinguished panel of speakers, chaired by Paul Jepson, presented their insights on the question and responded to contributions from the audience. We invite you to listen to podcast of the event and tweet your comments and insights at #EuropeDayOxford.

The speakers were Dr Caroline Jackson, former Chair of the Institute for European Environment Policy and the European Parliament’s Environment Committee; Kaarina Kolle, Climate and Energy Policy Specialist at the WWF European Policy Office and alumna of our MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Policy; Professor Michael Shackleton, convenor of our elective course on European Institutions and co-author of The Institutions of the European Union (2012); and Anthony Teasdale, Director for Internal Policies at the European Parliament and co-author of The Penguin Companion to European Union. The panel debated how the European Union makes environmental decisions.

Jonas Schoenefeld, an MPhil student at the School of Geography and the Environment and lead organiser of the event, provided a brief history of EU environmental policy before introducing the four speakers.  He reminded the audience that environmental policy was not part of the original remit of the European Union, but emerged gradually in response to issues such as ozone depletion and was only formalised in 1987 as in the Single European Act. Subsequently the EU has become an international environmental policy leader, which raises important questions about who and what has power.

Kaarina Kolle said that 80% of environmental legislation in the EU member states comes from Brussels (see press release). She also mentioned that NGOs play a strong role in influencing EU environmental policy, and she emphasised the need for NGOs to work together. WWF have 40 lobbyists working solely to influence EU environmental policy.

It seems that the public, however, don’t have much of a say in EU environmental policy ­– Caroline Jackson raised questions about the EU’s democratic deficit but also highlighted the fact that the European Parliament has acquired more decision-making power in environmental policy. This point was explored further in the ensuing discussion with specific reference to e-petitioning and the European Citizen’s Inititative.

It emerged that there are multiple policy paths in the EU – paraphrasing former US President Lyndon Johnson, Anthony Teasdale stated that ‘no decision in Brussels is made only once’. He discussed how power in the EU can be thought of in terms of ‘iron triangles’.  An important new insight was his perspective that the boundaries of policy networks and communities are starting to harden and compete with each other for influence. A key question is: ‘which iron triangle [or network] wins out?’

In the context of a recent pesticide ban to protect bees, and revisions to the EU’s carbon dioxide emissions trading system, Michael Shackleton explained the difference between primary and secondary legislation in the EU. He said how important it was to know about policy-making procedures in order to understand or influence the process.

Drawing the event to a conclusion, Paul Jepson posed the question: ‘What power does academia have?’ and invited the panel to offer their advice and tips on how members of the audience could build thier influence in EU environmental decision making.