Between 1977 and 1980, ‘Brussels watchers’ amongst the environmental impact assessment (EIA) fraternity could gauge their standing in the hierarchy by whether they were privy to the most recent version of the proposed EIA directive as these documents diffused out only slowly from an inner circle of luminaries. Indeed, there were so many drafts of the directive over this period that even the pundits seemed to lose count. Estimates of how many were produced ranged from ‘over twenty drafts’ (Haigh 1983) to ‘no fewer than 50’ (Milne 1986). Not only was there a long gestation period before the draft directive was formally published in 1980, but there were also protracted deliberations before a final text was agreed by the constituent member states of the European Community (EC) in July 1985. In all, a decade elapsed between the initial discussions on EIA as an element of EC environmental policy and its realization.
It would be correct, but far too simplistic, to say that the recalcitrance of certain member states, particularly the UK, was responsible for these inordinate delays. Indeed, the EIA directive merely provides one of the more extreme examples of the difficulties involved in formulating and adopting EC policy. To see how these difficulties arise, it is important to understand how EC policy evolves and to consider the role of various Community institutions within this process.
Community policy, however, is not created in a vacuum, as each member state has a range of domestic provisions which may be enhanced, nullified or even countermanded by proposed EC legislation. Thus, the EIA directive must be set within the context of national planning law. National perceptions of priorities concerning the natural environment influence the evolution of EC policy and even the political relationships between member states determine the agreed Community stance which is finally adopted. National perceptions also dictate the way in which Community policy is implemented within each member state.
In this paper the influence of Community institutions and national planning law within individual member states on the evolution of the directive are reviewed. The main provisions of the directive, representing a minimum