European environmental policy


European law covers almost all areas of environmental policy now. While EU environmental policy stands for internal policy action among the member states, the scope for foreign policy action on environmental topics is also growing.

Upper Danube Nature Park, Baden-Württemberg
Upper Danube Nature Park, Baden-Württemberg© picture alliance / Arco Images GmbH

Environmental policy within the EU

Most of environmental law in EU member states is based on EU guidelines. The Single European Act of 1987 made the environment a legally binding field at the European level. Since 1999 the environmental impact of all projects must be taken into account in advance. Since 1972, more than 300 pieces of EU legislation have been passed on environmental protection. They must be transposed into national law, executed and monitored by the member states. Currently the EU’s environmental policy focuses on climate change, biodiversity, improving the environment, health and quality of life and sustainable use of natural resources.

International environmental policy of the EU

In addition to European environmental policy, in recent years the EU has proven its role as leader in international environmental policy. The EU is party to numerous international environmental conventions, for example, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The EU makes a major contribution to the development of global environmental policy, making environmental issues more and more important in the EU’s foreign policy. This is also the goal of the Green Diplomacy Network (GDN) established by the European Council in Thessalonki in 2003. The network consists of experts responsible for environmental issues from the EU Foreign Ministries. The GDN has an important function in capacity building and spreading information within the network on topics relating to the environment and sustainability, because coordinated or joint action requires a unified state of knowledge.

The Federal Foreign Office in European environmental policy

Most of the environmental issues negotiated in the EU are internal technical issues. Naturally the Federal Ministry for the Environment is responsible for these. Germany works very closely with its European neighbours on these issues. EU Environment Ministers meet regularly, both within the EU framework and on a bilateral basis. Germany and France, for example, have maintained a Franco-German Environment Council since 1989. A similar council has existed at ministerial level since 1992 in relations with Poland. It meets regularly to deal with questions of cooperation on environmental protection in both countries. Before the countries of Central and Eastern Europe became part of the European Union, Germany’s extremely close environmental cooperation focused on bringing them into line with EU environmental standards and repairing environmental damage done in the past.

With the establishment of the European External Action Service, the EU has a new foreign policy face also on environmental issues. The task of the Federal Foreign Office is to work to see that Germany and the EU meaningfully complement each other in foreign policy efforts on the environment. The environment dossier offers great room for both the EU and the member states to support each other in shaping foreign policy.

Danube delta near Sfantu Gheorghe, Romania
Danube delta near Sfantu Gheorghe, Romania© picture alliance / Arco Images GmbH

A good current example of this is the work on a strategy for the Danube region: water as an environmental resource – the Danube – defines a new space comprising both EU member states and non-EU countries – Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Moldova and Ukraine. The new strategy for the Danube region, launched by the German Länder Baden‑Württemberg and the Free State of Bavaria as well as Hungary and Austria, has the potential to be a point for crystallization for a new identification (see the private student study from the programme of the Studienkolleg, www.studienkolleg-zu-berlin.de). The concept of the “environmental space” – rivers, forest, lakes – provides an excellent opportunity to rethink spaces.

More information on EU environmental policy can be found here:


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