Internationalisation of European Environmental Movements

Essay, 2011

20 Pages, Grade: 2,0



Environmental protest has been evaluated as the most influential force of social movements in Western Europe. The wide range of organizations and informal networks, both local and national, was supported by a large constituency in recent decades. The question arise if the “European Environmental Movement” have been more unified in recent decades, while environmental policy shifted simultaneously to supranational and international governmental organizations (Rootes 2003: p. 2; Smith 2007: p. 314-320). After a careful examination of essential factors involved, this essay argues that despite the presence of transnational activism shared goals and a movement identity is still missing which define the nature of a homogenous European environmental protest. Thus, the “European environmental movement” cannot be described as “unified”, but as single-issue oriented and deeply fragmented.

This claim will be proofed in four main parts. First, the nature of environmental protest will be examined, aiming at the question which organizational patterns could be observed during the development of the recent decades. Second, essential characteristics of cross-national cooperation will be analysed. This section shall provide insights into the first stage of potential European movement, expecting that cooperation between national organisations indicates ideological compliance and shared identities. The third section explores environmental activism on the EU-level in order to assess how national cooperation and organizational patterns translate to transnational organizations and networks which aim to address EU environmental policy. The fourth section deals with the role of international governmental institutions like the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If there exists a European environmental movement common strategic patterns, coordination and attitudes towards other “global social movements” like the “Anti-globalisation movement” (AGM) should define the identity of a “European environmental movement”. Finally, the conclusion will point out the main line of argumentation and will propose further research questions and aims.

In order to provide a reference framework, the terms of “unified” and “homogenous” will be defined shortly. According to Jackie Smith transnational social movements are defined by a permanent cooperation of organizations in order to achieve a shared goal (Smith 1997: p. 59-60). This pattern can be understood as a common identity which movements adhere, whereupon shared concerns of environmental issues create also a common conception of political and social reality (Rootes 2007: p. 610). Their patterns of action can be both confrontational and constructive, but one pattern of activism needs to be integrated in the general strategy. Accordingly, demonstrative action can be used to generate higher media attention and strengthen lobbying efforts. Furthermore, the strategy of activism needs to follow the common goal of either radical change or reformation of social and political reality (Cohen et al 2000: p. 2). These criteria help to put the following findings into the context of social movements. Due to the diversity of organizations and networks in contexts of southern- European and east-European countries I do not suggest calling European environmental protest a movement. Cooperation among different groups can only tend to be unified and homogenous in a specific geographic area with regard to the criteria outlined above. If one would try to find out if there exists one “European Environmental Movement” all EU- countries would have to be analysed. Therefore, I use this term as general description of environmental protest in Europe and focus on western European countries, especially Germany, France and Britain.

Ambiguity of environmental protest in Europe

To understand the patterns of transnational environmental activism it is necessary to shed light on the conditions in which environmental groups operate. First of all, the recent decades indicated that national environmental movements were determined by fragmentation. Originally emerged in the 1970s in connection to values of the New Left it became more incorporated into established political structures in the 1980s and 1990s. Professionalised and hierarchical organizations like Greenpeace challenged the post-material values of other groups and constituted the dominant actors of the movement in the political progress (Brand 1999: p. 35; p. 45). Thus, organizations like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth (FoE) replaced traditional preservation organisations in their role when they attempted to challenge their unsystematic view of environmental issues. Finally, they engaged increasingly in lobbying activities and held non-participatory organization structures and hence undermined their initial purpose of identity (Rootes 1999: p. 155-157). The number of transnational organisations and coalitions between them increased significantly over time, counting nearly 25 worldwide in 1996 (Murphy 2005: p. 242-243). Moreover, this development contributed to further splits in environmental movements. While these NGOs became accepted partners in the political process other groups returned to the initial nature of the environmental movements by engaging in direct confrontational action. These groups are deeply connected to the local constituency, while organisations like Greenpeace build up professional organizational structures in order to respond to complex environmental issues of national and global scope (Carter 2001: p. 141-144; Van der Heiijden 1999: p. 206-208). The new radical groups address partly the same issues but engage mainly locally by confrontational activism. Furthermore, these groups have set up informal networks in order to address International governmental organisations (Wall 1999: p. 183-186).

The nature of professional network alliances

The first step towards transnational activism leads to cooperation among national groups of different countries. However, comprehensive analysis of cooperation among national groups is underrepresented.

Cooperation among national groups took place when a mutual interest or goal was shared. Therefore, this kind of cooperation can be observed when environmental issues are located on borders with a symbolic value, like nuclear plants or dams, which affect regions of different countries. It is important to mention this kind of cooperative activity, but it is more focused on specific issues in local contexts and informational exchange between groups with similar goals. When groups attempt to address broader environmental issues they engaged in networks, where an efficient coordination could be provided (Rucht 1993: p. 79-81). Thus, I will examine the European network of environmental organisations.

Due to the increasing institutionalisation of environmental activism and the role of supranational organisations like the EU, historical and social scientist assumed increasing transnational activity and attempted to find evidence for an Europeanisation of environmental protest. Statistical data offered the dimension of transnational activism (see Poloni-Staudinger 2009; Rootes 2005; Tarrow 2005). According to these findings, transnational cooperative activity had an increasing share on protest activity. In Britain and France transnational cooperation with other groups or networks had a share on the entire cooperative activity of nearly 20% in 2002 but indicated variability over time while Germany indicated lasting 40% since 1998. These data provided by Poloni-Staudinger focused on established organisations which emerged in succession of the New Left era as well as on traditional preservation groups. It can be said that transnational activity must have certain importance for groups in order to pressure accountable institutions to enhance environmental policy, national as well as international institutions (Poloni-Staudinger 2009: p. 384-385). Nevertheless, it is necessary to look at two further factors at least. First, the findings do not consider the way in which transnational cooperation is conducted. Do groups engaging in transnational networks and organisations share a common identity? Second, more radical, less established groups should be examined. Did they establish an oppositional network towards professionalised environmental organisations? The second question will be discussed in the next chapter, due to the global orientation of these informal networks and alignment to other social movements.


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Internationalisation of European Environmental Movements
University of Warwick  (Department of History)
Politics of Protest: Social Movements in Western Europe since the 1960s
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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539 KB
Umweltbewegung, transnationaler Protest, Europäische Union, Europäische Integration, Internationale Organisationen, Soziale Bewegungen, WTO, transnationale Bewegungen, Globalisierung
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Julian Ostendorf (Author), 2011, Internationalisation of European Environmental Movements, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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