Multilevel Environmental Governance

Multilevel Environmental Governance

Managing Water and Climate Change in Europe and North America

Edited by Inger Weibust and James Meadowcroft

The literature on Multi-level governance (MLG), an approach that explicitly looks at the system of the many interacting authority structures at work in the global political economy, has grown significantly over the last decade. The authors in this volume examine how multilevel governance (MLG) systems address climate change and water policy.

Chapter 3: Subsidiarity as a 'scaling device' in environmental governance: the case of the European Union

David Benson and Andrew Jordan

Subjects: environment, climate change, environmental politics and policy, water, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy, regulation and governance


Identifying the appropriate balance between the collective need for higher-level intervention and the maintenance of lower level autonomy in policy making, is an inherent problem within all multilevelled systems of governance. It is a particularly important issue in relation to European Union (EU) environmental policy making, where determining the most appropriate level of governance to address policy problems raises many thorny questions relating inter alia to sovereignty, democratic legitimacy and economic costs. The EU's experience demonstrates that 'scale matters' (Young 2002, 27). Indeed it is an issue that EU policy makers have been grappling with for nearly four decades. 'Scale' primarily concerns 'the levels at which phenomena occur in the dimensions of time and space' (Young 2002, 26). Therefore, defining the scale at which particular environmental problems occur is an important factor in deciding how they will be addressed by policy systems. When governance spans, as it does in the EU, many levels, policy making 'tasks' will also need to be spread across a political space encompassing local, regional, national and supranational institutional actors (Weale 2002, 348). Logically it may be more effective and efficient to address 'local' issues at local levels, and Europe-wide issues supranationally at a European level (Weale, 2002). But, in practice, environmental problems invariably have complex multiscale characteristics that render such generalizations problematic and hence are productive of political controversy. In this chapter we argue that the EU offers a very useful context in which to examine how scale issues are perceived and addressed by policy makers.

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