Academic journal article European Journal of Sustainable Development

Political Determinants of National Environmental Performance in the European Union

Academic journal article European Journal of Sustainable Development

Political Determinants of National Environmental Performance in the European Union

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

Environmental degradation (either in the form of pollution or mismanagement of natural resources) is a phenomenon that is not limited by geographic boundaries, yet it is more pronounced in some countries than in others. It occurs around the world, with significant and sometimes irreversible consequences on current and future generations' health and lifestyle. The degree of environmental quality also determines a country's level of attractiveness as a place to live (Esty and Porter, 2002). In this harsh context the proper designing and management of tailored environmental policies is a nation's responsibility, which must be fulfilled, not only for the protection of its citizens, but also for the safety of and moral duty towards its neighbours (Apostoaie, 2016), giving rise to the concept of 'environmental state' - which implies the management of environmental problems as 'an irreducible element of what governments actually do' (Duit et al., 2016; Sommerer and Lim, 2016). The society often looks towards their national governments for solutions to improve the quality of the environment when they consider that this is required.

Therefore, the quality of the environment is an ardent topic (or at least it should be at all levels of society) and also a growing concern for advanced, as well as developing countries. Nonetheless, this topic rose on the political agenda only after the 1960s. As environmental politics moved increasingly more into the spotlights of national governments (driven by the increasing rate of degradation or by increased public awareness of existing environmental problems), it migrated from ''national to international policy arenas" (Duit, 2005: 1).

As part of this evolution process, Fiorino (2011) identified two important waves of development: a) the 1st wave of national programs led by the early 'pioneers' took place mainly among the western democracies; as a response to the existing environmental issues (Weidner, 2002), states such as Sweden or the USA created the appropriate institutions, enacted laws and developed the necessary administrative and technical capacity; b) the 2nd wave occurred in the developing countries and transitional economies as a response to the World Commission on Environment and Development meeting (in 1983) and the Rio Earth Summit (in 1992); simultaneously, as environmental requirements grew, many of the 1st wave countries adapted by changing their laws, institutions and infrastructure.

Regardless of the levels at which environmental policies are currently designed and implemented (global, regional and local authorities becoming more and more involved in managing environmental issues), national governments remain in the forefront of environmental policymaking. Moreover, they are accountable to their citizens for the environmental policies they put into practice and for the level of environmental performance they require. The environmental performance of a country is a fact given by its ''ability to produce environmental public goods" (Duit, 2005).

There is currently a growing literature on the environmental performance (EP) at a national level, which aims at better explaining and understanding the phenomena (with regard to its definition, approach, main 'caretaker', ways of gauging it, determinant factors etc.). There is also an increasing body of research in the designing of indicators that capture a country's EP level. In the current study, we turn to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), a composite indicator developed by Esty et al. (2008). Moreover, the studies which look for the influence that political factors (general descriptive state level political factors, such as level, age and quality of democracy or institutional capacity etc.) have on a country's EP level are wide raging and informative. Nonetheless, the authors have noticed that some specific variables related to politics and governmental parties may have been overlooked, as also observe by Knill et al. …

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