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It's Not Easy Being Green in an Austere Climate: the Impact of Austerity upon Environmental Policy in Europe

Paul Tobin

Environmental policy is now formally embedded in national policy agendas across Europe and is recognised as being an important function of government. However, there are good reasons to suspect that this policy sector may have been - and continues to be - negatively affected by the economic downturn and the austerity policies that have come in its wake. The election of the new Juncker Commission in November 2014 has places austerity at the heart of EU policy-making. Following the merger of both the Environment brief and the Climate brief with other portfolios, environmental issues appear to be a lower priority than economic growth. Yet, measuring policy change is notoriously fraught with difficulties, as change may simply be stagnation rather than the deliberate dismantling of policy. Or, alternatively, political actors may use events, such as the Economic Crisis, as a fig leaf to disguise long-cherished policy ambitions. This paper will explore the conceptual and methodological difficulties associated with capturing environmental policy change in response to the Economic Crisis. The paper will review the various measures that can be used to assess policy - such as quantitative and qualitative measures, budgetary changes and institutional alterations - before establishing a methodology that is applied to a study of environmental policy change in Europe. Recently conducted interviews with elite policy-makers will provide further insights to the findings. The paper will be of particular interest to researchers specialising in environmental politics, comparative analysis, and research methodology.

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