The European Commission’s Shifting Climate Leadership

Global Environmental Politics, Vol 17, No 2, 2017, pp. 84-104.

The European Commission has played a crucial role in promoting ambitious EU climate targets and policies that boost the credibility of EU leadership-by-example efforts internationally. The approach has gradually shifted, from leadership towards more strategic behavior that reflects the preferences of the member-states. Reduced uncertainty concerning member-state preferences and solutions accounts for much of the change in leadership. Uncertainty has decreased as climate policies become more mature and member-states gain experience from implementing them. Asymmetries in member-state preferences, decision-making procedures, and impatience caused by the international context are all important conditions for Commission leadership. These observations lend support to apparently contradictory theories that see EU climate policy as propelled by autonomous supranational institutions, or by increasingly ambitious member-states.