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EU Environmental Policy and Law


Admission requirements

Admission to the Master International Relations, track European Union Studies.


Environmental policy and law takes a prominent yet paradoxical role in the European integration project. Despite its humble beginnings, lacking a legal treaty basis and bootstrapped from a mere by-product of economic market integration, it has become one of the most densely regulated and harmonized areas of EU policy, which moreover must be ‘integrated’ into all the EU’s other policies. Yet, at the same time, EU environmental law and policy suffers from the very worst implementation and enforcement deficits of all EU policy fields. Environmental standards are (seen as) costly, are often unpopular, and inherently create barriers to trade. Yet, environmental issues can also be described as ‘quintessentially European’, given their inherent transboundary and migratory nature. These paradoxes, and the seemingly inevitable dichotomy between environmental and economic interests (leading to clashes within and between EU institutions, member states, industry and civil society organizations) will be explored in this course. We will examine how the special and complex nature and framing of environmental ‘problems’ affects the way state and non-state actors, respectively and collaboratively, respond to major contemporary environmental problems. In this course, students will be familiarized with the fundamental concepts that govern EU environmental policy and law – its main actors, procedures, and principles (incl. the precautionary principle, polluter-pays principle, proximity principle, integration principle, etc); as well as to facilitate an understanding of how those concepts are implemented and enforced (or not!) in EU Member States’ legal orders by both public and private enforcement; and to critically analyze strengths and weaknesses in this policy framework. We will also explore several in-depth case studies (both in lectures and student presentations) of specific contemporary and controversial EU environmental policy areas, both substantive (e.g. chemicals; GMOs and food safety; bio- and nanotechnology; fracking (shale gas); nature conservation; waste; water; air quality; energy; climate change; agriculture; fisheries; etc) and procedural (e.g. environmental liability; environmental impact assessment; public participation, access to information and access to justice; integrated pollution prevention and control; environmental state aid competition law, etc). Building on the insights gained in the preceding parts of the course, students will critically analyze how concrete law and policy responses have developed by the EU for each of these environmental challenges, and how these have been put into action ‘on the ground’ at the national and sub-national levels in the Member States. These student case study presentations will be actively discussed in class, to develop valuable comparative perspectives. On this basis, we will seek to draw conclusions about cross-cutting issues, common trends, lessons, failures and weaknesses, successes and strengths of EU environmental policy and law.

Throughout the course, we will explore many of the moral dilemmas and thorny policy questions raised by environmental policy and law, including as regards the efficiency of decision-making, implementation and enforcement practices, the quality and transparency of regulatory output and input, the effectiveness of the policy in improving the state of the environment in Europe, the legitimacy of regulatory activity in the EU multi-level context, and the role of the EU as a ‘green global leader’ in international environmental politics and global sustainable development. Finally, we will situate EU environmental policy-making in the context of both global environmental governance dynamics, including the inevitable trade and environment conflict within the EU and WTO, and to explore how the EU operates as a leader in the global political arena.

Course objectives

The overall objective of this course is to develop a critical understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of EU environmental policy and law, the key obstacles it faces, the trade-offs between competing environmental and economic interests, and the complex dynamics of state and non-state actors in this field. As one of the most densely regulated and litigated areas of EU policy and law, many of the concepts of EU environmental policy and law serve as exemplars for general challenges faced in EU integration. This course adopts a highly interactive teaching method (participatory learning). Students will be actively engaged and challenged to develop their individual skills of critical analysis and reflection, both in written work, class discussions and in their presentations (including discussants, peer review and self assessment).


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar.

Assessment method


  • Paper 60%

  • Presentation 30%

  • Class participation 10% (including performance in discussions, discussant role, peer review, self-evaluation, etc.) The final paper will only be marked if the student has attended the seminars.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading List

A reading list will be distributed at the start of the course.


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


Not applicable.