22 February 2018

Promoting compliance in the European Union environmental sector

In the European Union (EU), environmental regulations suffer from a higher rate of non-compliance than any other sector. Understanding why this is so is a crucial, though insufficiently explored, issue. A recent PhD thesis in International Relations/Political Science helps to fill this gap. Interview with Olga Kovarzina on “Non-state Actors and Compliance with EU Law: The Case of the EIA Directive”.

Why did you choose to study compliance with EU environmental law?

I chose this thesis topic due to its practical nature. While law and regulations are important, compliance and implementation are very pragmatic and results-oriented issues. Another goal was to provide utility to a broader audience, consisting not only of academics and researchers, but also policymakers, NGOs and compliance practitioners.

What are your thesis’s distinctive feature and findings?

Most existing research treats compliance and implementation as binary yes/no variables. In contrast, this work takes a deeper look at what compliance actually means by analysing it as a process in several stages: legal transposition, preparing the ground for application (administrative implementation), and the practical on-the-ground application itself. One of the revelations is that at each stage, very different factors are at play, affecting the results.

The analysis takes into account a variety of actors, including non-state actors such as NGOs and market actors (enterprises). Their impact is far from uniform, and different types of NGOs or enterprises affect compliance differently. One of the unexpected findings is that small grassroots NGOs, even with limited resources, can have significant impact on the compliance outcome.

Finally, this research contributes to the broader body of literature on EU by employing a comparative case study approach. One of the case studies is an original EU member state (Belgium), while the other one is a fairly recent newcomer (Latvia). Again, contrary to more intuitive expectations, Latvia performs very well, while Belgium offers mixed results that vary between its regions. Likely or possible causes of this puzzle are discussed.

Your research is indeed of high policy relevance.

Policymakers and other practitioners can use this analysis (which includes a substantial amount of field data) to have a clearer picture of what factors may affect compliance, how to improve compliance, and a cumulative view of a variety of stakeholders involved in the compliance process.

Dr Kovarzina defended “Non-state Actors and Compliance with EU Law: The Case of the EIA Directive”, her PhD thesis in International Relations/Political Science, on 22 September 2017. The jury was composed of Professor Thomas Biersteker, president and internal reader, Professor Liliana Andonova, thesis director, and Professor Stacy VanDeveer, external reader from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA.

Abstract: In the European Union (EU), environmental regulations suffer from the higher rate of non-compliance than any other sector. And yet, the understanding of what factors and conditions facilitate or impede compliance and how these factors shape variation in compliance across regulations and issue areas is still not quite sufficient. Another feature of environmental governance concerns the growing importance of the role of informal/non-state actors, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), industry actors, and the public. This research sets out to uncover how environmental NGOs, as well as industry and business actors, interact with EU institutions and domestic institutions, administration and legislature to affect domestic environmental compliance with EU directives. The role of public participation is also explored. Using the case of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) directive in Latvia and Belgium, this research investigates the effects of these actors upon the environmental compliance in the EU; how these effects vary across compliance stages; and what domestic member-state factors account for these effects.

Full citation: Kovarzina, Olga. “Non-state Actors and Compliance with EU Law: The Case of the EIA Directive.” PhD thesis, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, 2018.


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