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Policy instruments

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Page Last modified 06 Oct 2015, 10:27 AM
Policies have a key role in determining, and improving the state of our environment. European environmental policies developed significantly since the first Environment Action Programme was decided in 1973; since then several hundred legal acts addressing environmental issues have been adopted.

When European environmental policies were first developed, many policy instruments focused on specific environmental problems. Since no single policy instrument can provide solutions to all problems, the spectrum of policies has broadened gradually to address increasingly complex environmental and related health problems. Today, many environmental policy interventions combine:

  • Traditional regulatory approaches, sometimes labelled ‘command-and-control measures’ (for example emission standards, bans of toxic substances, and land planning instruments);
  • Market based instruments (such as environmental taxes and greenhouse gas emission trading);
  • Awareness raising (including for example energy efficiency labels and communication campaigns).

The latest environment action programme (7th EAP) provides an integrated framework for these policy interventions. It sets out the long-term ambition of ‘living well, within the limits of our planet’.

Evaluating environmental policies for knowing what works, and how it works

Roughly halfway between the beginning of European-level environmental policy in the early 1970s and the 2050 objective for achieving sustainability set out by the 7th EAP, European environmental policy is recognised as one of the strongest in the world. Our environment would look quite different without it, as EEA’s latest assessment ‘The European environment — state and outlook 2015’ shows. At the same time, the questions “what works?”, “how does it work?”, “at what cost?” and “what are prerequisites for making it work?” can be asked in view of improving environmental policy, its implementation and design. Policy evaluation helps to answer these questions.

Evaluations typically address different evaluation criteria. These criteria are in many instances the relevance of policies, their effectiveness and efficiency, the coherence between policies, but also the added value of policies at European, national or local level. More recently, the relevance of these criteria has also been recognised in the framework of initiatives for improving regulation, also known as the better regulation initiative. A range of evaluation tools and methods are available to evaluate environment policies against these criteria, for example the European Commission’s Evalsed sourcebook.

EEA’s contributions to environmental policy evaluation

The European Environment Agency (EEA) provides environmental information for policy-makers and the public, and contributes to evaluating environmental policy. While focusing in its earlier work on the effectiveness of policies (for example, the reporting on environmental measures project), the current focus of EEA’s work is also on:

  • methodologies for evaluation, in order to further improve the toolbox for understanding of the relationship between policies and changes in the state of Europe’s environment;
  • the effect of policies on specific systems, such as the mobility system, in order to better understand and evaluate the way policies can contribute to transitions towards a more sustainable society in Europe;
  • the integration of environmental policies in other policy areas (for example, the common fisheries policy).

EEA’s publications contributing to environmental policy evaluation are available here.


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Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom
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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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