European Union, Governance and Sustainability

The European Union (EU) is not very popular among its citizens. Although always debated, it nevertheless has become an important governance arrangement that influences our daily lives in fundamental ways. Currently, the EU is particularly associated with the financial and economic crisis. The EU is seen both as a driver of this crisis and as an arrangement that needs to solve it. Among all this turmoil, we could almost forget that the EU also developed an environmental and sustainable development policy that has become almost more important than the policies of the participating nation states.

Taking this policy domain as its main focus, this course rests upon three pillars:

- The arrangement we are looking at is the European Union (EU).

The EU is not a state like any other nation state. It can be best seen as a transnational form of co-operation between nation states that gave up some of their autonomy, but that are also sometimes competing, and that represent unequal political and economic powers. Nevertheless, there is a basic aspiration to at least aggregate their national interests and work together on what are seen as common interests. In this process, the EU is continuously seeking (and trying to protect) its political and cultural identity in a complicated system of multi-level decision-making arenas, a thick web of committees in which interactions take place among representatives of the nation states, and a wide range of procedural rules.  

- The area we are interested in is that of sustainable development.

In a very broad interpretation, sustainable development implies seeking a balance between economic, social and environmental concerns to secure a better quality of life for everyone, both now and for generations to come. What was new when the concept was introduced in global governance by the end of the 1980s was the recognition of environmental limits. Although sustainable development is one of the fundamental objectives of the EU, it is also a much contested one. As a cross-cutting theme, it implies taking a different view of policy fields such as agriculture, energy, transport etc. As a result, the history of sustainable development policy in the EU is a history of negotiating interpretations, and is fraught with problems and tensions.

- The theoretical perspective we use is governance.

Governance theorists study the changes in the way societies are being steered, that is, the shift from governments playing a central role to new arrangements, in which actors from the market and civil society also take responsibility for steering society. Governance as a mechanism of change is based on co-operative relationships between public and private actors and relies on their assumed abilities to develop a common normative practice and institutional context for change. As a common characteristic, governance theorists stress interactive processes through which public and private actors co-operate, and through which public and private responsibilities may be connected. Governance theory has also inspired a set of normative considerations, as expressed in the concept of ‘good governance', which associates governance with an efficient, effective and publicly accountable system of governing.

The course is subdivided into four parts and consists of thirteen textbook chapters and associated workbook units. Part I of the course (two chapters) reflects on the basic concepts of sustainable development and governance. Part II (four chapters) looks at the evolution of European integration and the development of the EU's sustainable development policies. Part III (five chapters) presents a number of case studies in EU policy fields relevant to sustainable development, to enable you to obtain deeper insights into European policy-making in the face of a multitude of interrelated sustainability challenges. Part IV (two chapters), finally, summarises the challenges to sustainable development governance and the conceptualisations, strategies and instruments (potential as well as realised) at the EU level.

Examination of the course consists of writing two papers (to be fulfilled at home). Total study load is 100 hours (1 module, 4,3 European Credits).

Course code: NM0302
Course instructors: prof. dr. D. Huitema

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