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

The Politics of Land

ISBN: 978-1-78756-428-2, eISBN: 978-1-78756-427-5

Publication date: 13 March 2019


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 favorable interest constellations, but this constraint is usually compensated by agenda competition among the national environmental pioneers. However, successful agenda-setting depends on the skillful 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 an EU soil framework directive, with a focus on the changing role of Germany. Reframing of soil politics as locally bound and as 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.




I would like to acknowledge the helpful comments I received from Tim Bartley, Peter Slominski, Jale Tosun, and two anonymous reviewers on different versions of this chapter. Hannah Kannen, Olof Karlsson, Lennart Lutz, and Florian Sowa provided useful research assistance. An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the 24th International Conferences of the Council for European Studies in Glasgow, 2017.


Deters, H. (2019), "Agenda Dynamics in the European Politics of Land: Explaining the Soil Protection Gap", The Politics of Land (Research in Political Sociology, Vol. 26), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 97-120.



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