Blog Political Science and Public Administration

Ana Mar Fernández y Nuria Font (UAB)


How has the EU influenced environmental governance in southern European countries? To what extent has the institutional context in these countries modulated the processes of Europeanization? Research indicates that the EU has fostered the emergence of more cooperative modes of environmental governance in Spain, Portugal and Greece, even though the degree of this influence has been strongly conditioned by the domestic institutional context of each state, and specifically by the type of territorial structuring, the degree of prioritisation of environmental policy, and the level of trust between state and non-state actors.


This study, of which Charalampos Koutalakis is also co-author, was carried out under the auspices of the project “New Modes of Governance,” financed by the 6th Framework Programme of the European Union (2004-2008) and coordinated by the European University Institute in Florence. The project aimed to explore innovation and transformation of instruments, methods and forms of governance in the political and economic systems of the EU and its member states. One of the sub-projects, from which several publications have stemmed, studies the capacity of the EU to foster new types of environmental governance in countries in the south of the EU, and secondly, how the internal institutional context of these countries acts in this process. The precise objective of the research was to understand the influence of domestic institutional factors in the process of Europeanization of the environmental governance of Spain, Portugal and Greece.


This comparative study of countries with historically, economically and culturally similar contexts--and more specifically, all with a low level of congruence between domestic and EU environmental policies--aims to explore whether there are variations regarding the adoption of mechanisms of environmental governance at the domestic level, and if so, to gauge the extent to which the domestic institutional contexts help to explain these differences in the process of Europeanization. Research reveals that the pressure to adapt to EU environmental requirements has been a contributing factor in the inclusion of non-state actors in the emerging mechanisms of environmental policies. Nevertheless, beyond this general observation, national variation has been detected. On one hand, Spain shows more regular consultative systems, relatively dense communities of actors--above all in relation to environmental protection--, and greater leadership and willingness to integrate non-state players in technical aspects of policy. On the other hand, in Greece the institutional adjustments are less structured, consultation is less regular, and a culture of administrative distrust prevails, hampering cooperation between state and non-state actors. Between these two extremes, Portugal has taken some steps to involve non-state players in its environmental policies, but such initiatives have been limited by a very centralized administrative culture.


In explaining the differences between countries observed in the process of Europeanization, key factors include: the heterogeneity of the territorial structure of their environmental policy, the importance given to the policy, and the level of institutional trust. Regarding the first factor, the omparison reveals that the highly decentralized structure in Spain has generated greater incentive and more opportunities for the inclusion of non-state actors in the decision-making and implementation processes, as it multiplies the decision-making centres and distributes political and technical resources among players situated at different levels of territorial politics. In contrast, the deficient implementation of the process of decentralisation in Portugal has hindered the emergence of complementary decision-making spheres or the creation of cooperative arrangements in each region. In Greece, the different decentralisation initiatives have not produced a change in the centralized way of intervening.


In relation to the second factor, the study reveals that giving institutional relevance to environmental policy facilitates the organisation and coordination of networks of actors and the involvement of non-state participants in processes involving an exchange of resources. In this regard, the Spanish Ministry of the Environment has exercised greater leadership in the process of exchanging resources among actors. In Portugal, the environmental policy has been given comparatively less importance, mainly due to continuous institutional reorganisation, which has limited institutional stability and leadership over the policy. In Greece, the delegation of environmental policy to a ministry simultaneously responsible for public works projects has hindered the chance for environmental policy to create new modes of governance.


Finally, interviews carried out in the three countries show that in Spain both state and non-state actors—the latter consisting principally of industry and ecological groups—are becoming more and more convinced of the importance of mutual trust in order to reap the benefits of cooperation, even though this public-private cooperation is discontinuous in time and varies as a function of the different sub-areas of environmental policy. In clear contrast, the mutual suspicion between state and non-state actors in Greece has been a serious impediment to public-private cooperation on environmental policy.


Ana Mar Fernández, Nuria Font and Charalampos Koutalakis (2010), ‘Environmental governance in Southern Europe: the domestic filters of Europeanisation’, Environmental Politics, 19(4), pp. 557 – 577.