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From government towards governance? Exploring the role of soft policy instruments

GPS, Vol. 9 No. 2, (2013)

This article assesses whether the use of “soft” policy instruments (such as voluntary agreements and eco-management and audit schemes) can be used as a measure for a deeper underlying change from (environmental) government towards (environmental) governance. It does so by analysing whether ‘soft’ tools are increasingly replacing “hard” policy instruments (i.e. traditional regulation) in German environmental policy. This article examines the role and function of voluntary agreements and eco-management schemes (i.e. the European Union’s (EU) Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14,001 eco-audit scheme) within Germany’s environmental policy tool box. It takes a longitudinal perspective by tracing the origins of these “new” environmental policy instruments and by assessing their use up to the early 2010s. Within the European Union (EU), which has failed to adopt a significant number of EU-wide voluntary agreements, Germany (together with the Netherlands) has adopted by far the largest number of voluntary agreements in environmental policy. However, since the 1990s environmental voluntary agreements have gone out of fashion in Germany. When the EU set up EMAS, Germany initially opposed the scheme, although (together with Austria) it rapidly became its largest user. However, in recent years German corporate actors have shown little enthusiasm for EMAS and a growing preference for the environmentally less ambitious ISO 14,000 standard. If voluntary agreements and EMAS constitute analytical touchstones for governance, then there appears to have been no wholesale uniform shift from government to governance in Germany. This article details significant constraints which have prevented the wider adoption of voluntary agreements which has come to a halt in Germany and never really took off on the EU level.

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