In one of the last events of the discussion series "From the blue sky above the Ruhr to the Energiewende", Prof. Dr. Eckard Rehbinder and Dr. Christian Hey were invited to speak at the panel discussion. The topic of this evening was the transformation of environmental policy from a policy field situated on the national level to a supranational-European policy field. In the discussion, the future role of the European Environment and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils (EEAC) in the European environmental policy was especially controversial.
Both Dr. Hey, being the incumbent Secretary General of the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU), and Prof. Rehbinder as the longtime chairman of the SRU belong to the leading experts for environmental policy in Germany. At the Goethe-University in Frankfurt, Prof. Rehbinder has been doing research and policy consultancy in European law for decades. Dr. Hey, on the other hand, enriched the discussion by bringing in his experience from the European Environmental Bureau in Brussels or the Institute for Regional Studies in Europe (EURES). The extensive experience that both experts brought to the discussion was especially evident when they discussed the role of the EEAC.
The role of the EEAC in EU environmental policy
Prof. Rehbinder became the first chairman of the EEAC and was very familiar with its founding story. The EEAC had been founded by different national environmental councils after the European Consultative Forum, a consulting body created by the European Commission, had failed. The EEAC's success was to bring new perspectives to the different environmental council. However, the other goal of becoming a forceful advocate for the environment on the European level never was reached. Currently serving as the treasurer of the EEAC, Dr. Hey confirmed this view. According to him, this failure could be explained by the diverging structures and views of the different councils.
Environmental institutes and the EU
Dr. Hey also talked about the founding of the EURES and his job at the Öko-Institut. Dr. Hey said that he had tried to initiate a discussion about European environmental policy at the Öko-Institut without success. The Öko-Institut was focused more on natural sciences and technology and therefore did not work on political and economic challenges on the European level at that time. Another reason for the lack of interest in European affairs was the small network of Europe-wide contacts that institutes had in the 1980s. According to Dr. Hey, the Single European Act (SEA) in 1986 gave a big boost to interest in environmental policy on the EU level.
Civil society and its effects on foreign policy
Speaking about civil society's meager participation in European decision-making, Dr. Hey conceded that civil society does not have any influence on EU negotiations per se. However, he brought up the example of "Germany's ambitious foreign policy in environmental protection". Here, past and present "social movements" had contributed to the German government’s current determination.
After the panel discussion, the experts discussed following questions and topics with the audience:
- How important is climate protection in the research at German environmental policy institutes?
- Is the EU an obstacle for innovative societal and economical models?
- What influence can the European public exert on the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement?