EU membership good for the environment

EU membership is good for the Member States’ environment.

In her dissertation study Special Advisor Laura Kröger (M.Sc. Agr. & For.) from MTT Agrifood Research Finland (MTT) charted how the environmental policy of Finnish agriculture has changed during Finland’s EU membership. The study examined the formation and implementation of policy from the perspective of policy learning.  introduced environmental policy to Finnish agriculture and gradually taught dissemttnting branches of administration how to cooperate with each other. This was not achieved solely through steering by regulation; the associated learning process and its support in policy preparation and implementation were equally important.

MTT  is one of the leading research institutes in Finland, carrying out researches on agricultural products and food chains, production and information systems, and agricultural policies and rural development.

Prior to EU membership in 1995 Finnish agriculture had no binding environmental policy in place; cooperation between agricultural and environmental authorities was practically non-existent.

In public social debate, environmental issues were not really associated with agriculture until the 1990s. The first study charting the environmental impact of agriculture was only completed in 1992, and classified the load of agriculture as being on a par with that of built-up areas.

EU membership has introduced new elements to agricultural policy, the most notable of them being an environmental subsidy system for agriculture. The drafting of the first environmental subsidy programme on the verge of membership was a difficult process, as agricultural and environmental administrations were still deeply entrenched in their own positions. The stage had been set as agriculture versus environment.

Major developments have taken place during the past ten years. New operating models have emerged, accompanied by the strengthened view that solutions to environmental problems in agriculture require cooperation between the different parties involved.

Laura Kröger discovered a new cooperation network at ministry level, which she calls the agri-environmental policy group. This group considers that environmental issues must be dealt with in order to retain the social acceptability of agriculture.

Ideally, cooperation at the regional level, which is charged with implementing policies, takes place voluntarily without obligating regulations. Moreover, a conscious choice will have been made to proceed with issues on which unanimity has been reached.

However, only two traditional networks or coalitions appear to be active in the sector, one being agriculturally orientated, the other focused on the environment.

“These results pertain to the region of Uusimaa, which I examined as an example of regional administration,” Kröger notes.

Regional level authorities include Employment and Economic Development Centres and Environment Centres.

“One reason why informal cooperation cannot properly expand is that Employment and Economic Development Centres have so many statutory duties and limited resources. For this part, implementation at the regional level has not been sufficiently supported,” Kröger says.

Laura Kröger points out that the more the new regulations differ from a country’s previous practices, the more challenging it will be to implement environmental regulations in EU Member States.

“Legislative amendments are quick to make, but that alone does not determine the programme’s functionality in practice. It would be important to establish the best implementation methods and the structures which best support implementation”.

“There has been a great deal of debate on this subject in Europeanisation studies. The same problems can be found in other Member States, too,” Kröger concludes.


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