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Voluntary Agreements: First Choice or Escape Strategy? – Invasive Alien Species as a Case

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

Voluntary agreements play a role in German biodiversity policy, which is a highly cross-sectoral policy field. We explore the question of the extent to which the choice in favour of voluntary agreements is affected by the inter-relation of policy sectors, using the issue of invasive alien species as a case study.
We develop an analytical framework for explaining the instrument choice based on the theoretical framework by Böcher and Töller. This framework states the influence of the factors of “institutions”, “discourses on instrumental alternatives”, “problem structure”, and “actors and the deci-sion situation”, on the “instrument choice”. We modify this framework in two respects: We specify the framework for decision making within cross-sectoral policies and with view to the choice between voluntary agreements and regulatory instruments.
The application of the theoretical framework to the policy of invasive alien species leads to eight arguments explaining the choice in favour of voluntary agreements. In evaluating these arguments we find four argu-ments that provide evidence for an escape choice. Three arguments see vol-untary agreements as first choice, one of these as priority measures against regulatory instruments; and the other two as supplements to regulatory law. One argument would support not to develop substantial policy-making ac-tivities. Six of the eight arguments show evidence for an influence of policy sector interrelation on the choice and two arguments are independent from this aspect.
The conclusion is that voluntary instruments can be partly seen as being the first choice for nature conservation actors. But there is a strong evidence for voluntary agreements being part of a selective policy strategy that uses this instrument as an “escape strategy” and as a substitute for hierarchical regulation that is politically blocked by powerful land-use and commercial interests.

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