Agenda-Dynamics in the European Politics of Land: Explaining the Soil Protection Gap


Soil is a non-renewable and increasingly deteriorating resource, yet it is barely protected by European Union (EU) legislation. This constitutes a puzzling gap within the otherwise encompassing and progressive environmental policy of the EU. To explain the integration resistance of soil protection, I draw on insights from rationalist and sociological institutionalist theory. The institutional rigidity of the community method of environmental decision-making limits policy change to favourable interest constellations, but this constraint is usually compensated by agenda-competition among the national environmental pioneers. However, successful agenda-setting depends on the skilful combination of political venues and issue frames. Matters of land politics, such as soil protection, are difficult to frame in terms that make them suitable for European policy venues. The theoretical argument is illustrated using an in-depth case study of the agenda-setting, negotiation, and eventual withdrawal of the ill-fated proposal for a EU soil framework directive, where the focus is on the changing role of Germany. Reframing of soil politics as locally bound and essentially national affair, subnational actors extended the conflict to include the German federal chamber as policy venue. As a result, Germany turned from “pusher by example” and first mover to “defensive front-runner”, successfully pursuing a blocking strategy.

Research in Political Sociology 26 (forthcoming)