Oxford University Press

The Brussels Effect: How EU Regulations Help the Environment

By February 21, 2020February 24th, 2020No Comments
Anu Bradford at Columbia's Morningside Heights Campus (2020) | Photo by Michael Skoglund

By Anu Bradford

Anu Bradford’s The Brussels Effect received a warm reception upon its publication this month, including Andrew Moravcsik writing in Foreign Affairs: “This may well be the single most important book on Europe’s global influence to appear in a decade.” This week, she launches her UK and European book tour, including stops in London, Oxford, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and Helsinki. For more information, please visit the book’s website brusselseffect.com. Below we’re pleased to offer a short excerpt from Chapter 7, on Environment.

Environmental protection is one of the policy areas where the EU’s dedication to protect the global commons and willingness to promulgate stringent regulatory standards in this regard is well known. However, in the public discourse the EU is often best known for its commitment to multilateralism and active backing of global environmental treaties. While the EU plays an out-sized role in multilateral environmental cooperation, in fact its environmental goals are often most effectively accomplished through the Brussels Effect ­– three examples are noted below.

1) Hazardous substances and electronic waste. The EU’s regulatory efforts in this area culminated in the adoption of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS Directive or RoHS 1) in 2002. The RoHS Directive bans the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, with the goal of preventing these substances from leaking into the environment when many common products such as household appliances and computers reach the end of their useful life. The Directive applies to all products placed on the market in the EU regardless of whether they are produced in the EU or in non-EU countries. In 2011, the Directive was extended to cover all electrical and electronic equipment, including medical devices and monitoring and control instruments (RoHS 2). The EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), first adopted in 2002, complements the RoHS in that it is aimed at removing e-waste from landfills and redirecting it to recycling. Both sets of directives impose upon the manufacturer the responsibility for product management throughout the life cycle of the product. These directives have therefore had a dramatic impact on the entire electronics industry.

2) Animal welfare. The EU has also taken decisive regulatory measures to advance animal welfare. The first such provision in 1974 focused on governing slaughterhouses. Regulation in this area was expanded in a 1998 Council Directive that lays down general rules on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, incorporating the “five freedoms” for animals as declared in the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming. The 1999 Amsterdam Treaty contains a Protocol on animal welfare, declaring that animals are sentient beings, a position confirmed by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. From the Lisbon Treaty’s affirmation that animals feel pain and pleasure grew the EU Strategy for the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2012–2015. This Strategy implemented new welfare standards around housing, feeding, transportation, and slaughter while also targeting the competitiveness of European producers. Another prominent example is the EU’s decision to ban animal testing for cosmetics. Since 2013, no cosmetics tested on animals can be marketed in the EU.

3) Climate change. The final example discussed concerns climate change—in particular the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS). Known as a “cap-and-trade” system, ETS imposes a limit on overall emissions and, within this limit, allows companies covered by the scheme to buy and sell emission allowances as needed. The ETS comprises 11,000 power stations and manufacturing plants in the EEA area, reaching a total of 45% of EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Initially, climate change emerged as a policy concern at the member-state level, including in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The EU had first opposed flexible market mechanisms such as the ETS during the 1997 Kyoto climate negotiations. However, after realizing the significance of the issue for the European integration, the Commission changed its course and argued that an EU-wide ETS was necessary to avoid market distortions after the United Kingdom and Denmark had introduced national ETSs. Further, once the EU undertook to fulfill its own Kyoto commitments regarding the reduction of GHG emissions by 2008, it became a priority to convince other countries outside the EU to do likewise, both to protect the global commons and to retain the competitiveness of the European industry.

These examples ranging from electronic waste to animal welfare and climate change are illustrative of the EU’s stringent environmental policy. They have also provided a foundation for the EU’s global influence as they have subsequently been externalized through the Brussels Effect.

Anu Bradford is the Henry L. Moses Professor of Law and International Organization at Columbia Law School. She is also a director for the European Legal Studies Center and a senior scholar at the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for Global Business. This is adapted from her new book The Brussels Effect: How the European Union Rules the World, published by Oxford University Press.