CIESIN Reproduced, with permission, from: Haigh, N., and K. von Moltke. 1990. The European Community: An environmental force. EPA Journal 16 (4): 58-60.

The European Community: An Environmental Force

by Nigel Haigh and Konrad von Moltke

In the 1970s, Europeans frequently looked across the Atlantic to the United States for inspiration when developing their own environmental policies. They may not have adopted all they saw, but at least they looked.

In the 1990s, Americans may find themselves looking increasingly to Europe, and to the European Community (EC) in particular, in conjunction with the growing internationalization of the environmental agenda. Certainly the EC has come of age as an international actor. Less than 10 years ago, the United States was questioning whether the EC could sign the Vienna Convention on Protection of the Stratospheric Ozone Layer as an independent entity. Today the need to deal with the EC as a unit is an indisputable reality, not only on trade and agricultural policy issues but also in many environmental matters.

The EC is something of a puzzle to many people in Europe; thus it is hardly surprising that people outside Europe often find it difficult understand. The EC fits no existing model of international relations. It is not a federal nation state---a kind of United States of Europe--although there are plenty who think it should become one. Nor is it just another international organization like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or the United Nations Environment Programme, within which countries collaborate without giving up important elements of sovereignty.

On issues where the EC has enacted legislation---for example customs duties, agricultural policy, and many aspects of environmental management---it has the authority to represent all 12 member states in external relations. This can get complicated since some international treaties cover some matters on which the EC has passed legislation and other issues on which it has not.

For example, in recent negotiations to tighten the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Stratospheric Ozone Layer, the EC was the undisputed representative of the member states when deciding which substances to include and how vigorously to control them. But it was unclear whether the EC as a whole---or its individual member states---would participate in the new fund to help less developed countries comply with the requirements of the protocol.

The EC has long puzzled the United States, which appears torn between the advantages of a strong "Europe" which can commit 12 countries at one stroke and the disadvantages of having to negotiate with this strong entity rather than with its much weaker constituent parts. A unified European entity is welcome for the strength of the Western alliance, but it inevitably reduces the relative importance of the United States within that alliance.

A case study in this ambivalence occurred in 1988. Just before the Montreal Protocol entered into force, the U.S. negotiator criticized the EC for insisting on joint ratification by its member states---which entailed the risk of holding up the rest of the world in protecting the ozone layer. It was well known that a number of member states were ready to ratify and that these individual ratifications could suffice to bring the protocol into force.

As it turned out, the member states did ratify collectively and in time. The U.S. negotiator had not anticipated the advantages of joint action, nor the contributions of the EC in making the protocol successful. Just a few months later, the EC forced the pace in dealing with stratospheric ozone depletion by calling for rapid phase-out of all controlled chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

How did the EC get so deeply involved in environmental affairs that it is now an important international negotiator? Its original goal was to create closer relations among member states by establishing a "common market." (See box.) Unity through economic development was very much an idea of the 1950s and 60s. Prosperity has helped ease tensions between traditional antagonists, but the EC has certainly not yet replaced the sovereign instincts of its member states. Indeed, often the most effective way to influence EC decisions is to work with the member states individually.

As the economic reforms of the EC began to take hold, the costs of economic growth without regard for the environment became increasingly apparent. It also became apparent that separate initiatives by individual member states to adopt environmental standards might be futile and might even conflict with the free-market goals of the EC. Differing standards could distort competition in some industries. Thus in 1972 a decision was made to launch an "environmental action programme" for the EC.

The economic technocrats who shape EC decisions did not exactly welcome this new venture with open arms. In fact, the first decade of EC environmental policy was eked out in a minefield of economic interests. For example, the original decisions on the control of CFCs were shaped to avoid any real impact on the industries concerned.

It is little short of a miracle that the "Cinderella" of EC environmental policies managed to survive, presumably because growing public pressure was forcing member states to act. From inauspicious beginnings, environmental policy has now become one of the mainstays of the EC, recently institutionalized in the same set of amendments to the European Economic Community (EEC) Treaties which designated 1992 as the date for removal of all barriers to trade.

Over the years EC environmental legislation has proliferated: More than 200 directives and regulations cover most aspects of environmental management, sometimes in great detail. These legal instruments differ widely in their significance. Some involve relatively small matters while others are comparable in importance to federal legislation in the United States. Some of the more important EC environmental legislation is highlighted below:

* The "Sixth Amendment," adopted in 1979, regulates the labeling and packaging of chemicals as well as testing requirements for new chemicals before they are marketed. It established a notification scheme which allows manufacturers to market new chemicals anywhere in the EC after notifying public authorities in one country only.

* The "Seveso Directive," adopted in 1982, was a response to a major accident, an explosion in a chemical factory, in Italy in 1976. Due to this directive, long before the Bhopal disaster, the European chemical industry was accustomed to preparing safety reports and on-site and off-site emergency plans, and the public was being informed of the correct procedures to follow in the event of an accident.

* A 1985 directive established an environmental assessment procedure for major public and private projects in all EC countries. Stimulated by the U.S. experience with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the European directive ended up being very different from NEPA because it had to be integrated with the advanced systems for land-use planning which were already in place in most European countries.

* The acid rain directive (1988) requires emissions of sulfur dioxide from existing large power stations to be reduced overall by 58 percent by the year 2003 from a 1980 baseline; however, different reductions are allocated to different countries. This agreement was reached after long and painful negotiations because the fuel supplies and the economic and geographical circumstances of the member states were so different. Thus the EC, an international body, was able to resolve its own inter-regional disputes on acid rain much more quickly than the United States.

* Over the years, a number of instruments have been adopted which effectively made the EC the key negotiator on the control of CFCs. The original decisions were merely symbolic in some respects, but they did define the controlling philosophy which ultimately was incorporated in the Montreal Protocol: limitation of overall production and use rather than regulation of individual applications.

Arguably the international negotiating logjam on stratospheric ozone depletion was finally broken in 1986 when first U.S. environmental organizations and then industry were pried loose from the U.S. government's negotiating position and embraced the EC approach.

It is important to keep in mind that in areas where the EC has passed legislation, it acquires external authority and thereby becomes an important negotiating partner for other countries. Moreover, EC environmental legislation is now so extensive that it is impossible to understand fully the national legislation of any member state without an understanding of the framework of EC law within which the national laws must fit. The member states with comparatively weak environmental records, such as Greece, Spain, and Portugal, are now building their policies in concert with the EC framework. But even the more enthusiastic countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark, have had their environmental policies improved by EC legislation.

The EC has become a force to reckon with on environmental and other issues. Member states deal with each other on a day-to-day basis in evolving environmental policies. The solutions they develop reflect the constraints of international cooperation, but these solutions are often more advanced than can be achieved in other international negotiations. Moreover, much like the United States, once EC countries reach consensus among themselves, they are unlikely to change their stance under external pressure. It is therefore essential for the United States to follow EC legislation closely and to seek input while influence is possible.

The reality of EC environmental policy has added a new dimension to U.S. foreign environmental policy. EC decision-making is complex and difficult to influence from the outside. EC decisions, once reached. are very difficult to change through the traditional means of bilateral diplomacy with member states. The experience of stratospheric ozone depletion may prove instructive.

The United States did much of the underlying research and took the first steps to act on the problem. But in recent years, the EC has emerged as the leader on the issue. It is not inconceivable that this pattern may be repeated on other international environmental issues ranging from tropical deforestation to global warming.

(Haigh is the Director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, London. Dr. von Moltke is a Senior Fellow at World Wildlife Fund and The Conservation Foundation and adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.)

Note: A book by Nigel Haigh entitled EEC Environmental Policy and Britain is available for $40 from The Conservation Foundation, P.O. Box 4866. Hampden Post Office, Baltimore., Maryland 2l211: telephone (301) 338-6998.