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What Instruments to Choose for Environmental Protection ?

For the past fifteen years the European Community has been encouraging the use of economic measures as the best environmental policy instruments including polluter-payer schemes, eco-labeling, eco-management, and more recently negotiable licenses. But are these really more effective than legal instruments?

In the face of the patent failure of European Community environmental policy at the end of the 1980's, theorists and practitioners began to work together to find more effective policy instruments, turning to economic means and incentives. A purely legal approach had not been very convincing. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) sponsored at that time a series of studies on the question which the EC* in turn disseminated. The principal movement of the 1990's was the abandonment of the total  administrative solution in favor of a total economic one, in many fields. Today, it is clear to see that the purely economic approach is not going to solve everything.

Sandrine Maljean-Dubois, a legal scholar at the Center for International and Community Studies and Research (CERIC) explains in her work L'outil économique en droit international et européen de l'environnement that economists and legal scholars did not sufficiently reflect on the effectiveness of a combination of legal and economic measures. Yet these two types of instruments are and should be seen as inextricably connected in practice. The example of the Kyoto accords (1997) serves to illustrate this interdependence. Recourse to a market for buying and selling pollution permits as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emission was seized as an efficient and flexible response. But the emphasis on efficiency led to increased difficulties in the definition of norms. This latter task indeed turned out to be much more complicated than it was with conventional legal instruments, with their command-and-control approach. At the same time, taking a policy instrument from a national to a community or international level presents certain specific challenges in the area of control and supervision. Too few policy experts and economists  are specialists in this field.

In sum, other than an initial effect when announced, the economic instruments put into place at the EU level are not playing more than a marginal role in environmental protection policy.



à lire

L'outil économique en droit international et européen de l'environnement. Edited by Sandrine Maljean-Dubois. La documentation Française, Monde européen et international, février 2002, 513 p.


Sandrine Maljean-Dubois
CNRS-Université Marseille 3

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