How and Through Which Mechanisms Have Environmental Movements in Europe Affected Politics and Policies? Essay

Environmental movement is a broad network of people and organization engaged in a collective action in pursuit of environmental benefits (Rootes, 1992:2). The fundamental assumption is that environmental movement’s influence and strength is mediated by social context and natural resources (Ion Bogdan, 2011). Environmental movements can affect various policy making decisions and the politics involved in it. Environmental movements can affect policy making decision is because of the support it gets from majority of the public, funding, professionalization, etc. Environmental movements originate from Environmental groups.

Environmental pressure groups (EPG’s) are probably the most popular in terms of publicity and environmental concern (Carter, 2007). It is no doubt that environmental movement has been most effective in countries like UK where there is no successful green party (Carter, 2007). Environmental movements can begin for various reasons. 1950 saw the emergence of conservation movement with its focus on wildlife all across the world. In the European countries the conservation movement for the UK was Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and for Germany it was Naturschutzbund Deutsch land (NABU) (Carter, 2007).

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Between the 1970’s and the 1980’s there was an anti-nuclear movement which turned the public against nuclear power, influenced party to change their position on nuclear power and facilitated the rise of green parties in Europe (Robert, 1984). In this essay we will see more about the anti-nuclear movement in Germany, the anti-road movement in the UK and various other environmental movements in Europe and how these movements have affected the politics and policies. Anti-Nuclear Movement in Germany:

The anti-nuclear movement has existed in Germany since the early 1970’s. The reason for an anti-nuclear movement to start in Germany was because of some features of nuclear power, its safety and the widely recognized waste disposal of the nuclear waste. Wolfgang said that the dangers and costs of disposal of nuclear waste could possibly make it necessary to forego the development of nuclear energy (Wolfgang, 1990). In 1971 the German government mentioned that Wyhl a place in the south western corner of Germany was a possible site for a nuclear power station.

In the following years, there were signs of protest from the local farmers and people who lived there. But these small protests had no impact on the politicians or the planners. In 1975 official orders were given to start building the Nuclear power plant (Walter, 1986). The day after the official orders local people occupied the site as a sign of protest. These local people were removed from the site by police using brute force (Walter, 1986). This use of brute force by the police was telecasted to the entire world (Wolfgang, 1990).

The rough treatment of the local people was largely condemned and made the rest of the local people more determined. Seeing the rough treatment, some of the local police refused to take part (Jim, 1982). The nearby university town of Freiburg came to support the local people, seeing the rough treatment of the local people in television. In February 23rd about thirty thousand people re-occupied the Wyhl site and because of this the plans to remove them were abandoned by the state government and on 21st march 1975 administrative court withdrew the construction licence for the plant (Wolfgang, 1990).

The plant was never built and the land was made a natural reserve (Wolfgang, 1990). This is how the Anti-nuclear movement in Germany evolved and this success story in Wyhl became an inspiration for the other nuclear opposition movements in the rest of Europe and North America (Wolfgang, 1990). Anti-Road Movement in UK (Earth First! ): Earth First! Is one of the most controversial and well known green movements in the world and the active force behind the anti-road campaigns in the UK in the 1990’s (Wall, 1999).

Earth First! And the anti-road movement in the UK traces the origin and the history since the 1880’s (Wall, 1999). Anti-road movement was against car use in general and road construction in particular. The reason behind the anti-road movement is the environmental and social cost of increase in road and traffic (Wall, 1999). The first anti-car meeting led to the formation of Earth First! In the UK and Reclaim the Streets (RTS) campaign whose aim was to be innovative and non-violent (Wall, 1999).

RTS aim was to reclaim the streets of London of cars and traffic and give the streets to the people. The aim of these campaigns and anti-movement was to encourage mass participation and thus making it harder for the police to act with efficiency. There were many street parties, where the people supporting the campaign would occupy the street as a sign of protest (Wall, 1999). Each action led to a more ambitious objective (Wall, 1999). The largest anti-road movement in the UK was in London in July 1996 where 7000 protestors occupied a London motorway (Wall, 1999).

Twyford was the launching ground for direct action road protests in 1990’s and has been one of the highlights since the 1970 anti-road movement. Twyford was the inspiration behind mass participation dramatically changing from just hundreds to thousands (Wall, 1999). In 1997 there was a dramatic eviction of the A30 route in Devon, which led to the reason of the last tunnellers to be removed (Wall, 1999). Twyford down in Hampshire is a city in Winchester which has wildlife and old monuments of intrinsic value.

There was a protest from the local campaigners to prevent the M3 links, which delayed the plans of the M3 (Wall, 1999). In the 1990’s some of the protestors and the students of the local public school were happy Twyford down to be used as a substitute route (Wall, 1999). These are some of the stories in which environmental movements and campaigning affected the policy making decisions in the UK. Environmental Movement in Hungary (Danube): In 1978 the communist government of Hungary and Czechoslovakia formed a treaty for a joint construction of a dam in Danube.

The construction of the dam involved considerable ecological, social and human health cost (Liliana, 1996). Janos Vargha a leading Hungarian environmentalist and biologist stated that building this dam would change the physical, chemical and biological condition of nearly 200 kilometres of the river and also the surrounding ground water (Liliana, 1996). There was lots of criticism about the dam being built due to the environmental problem it would cause. The first criticism that was voiced was in 1981 in an article written by Janos Vargha (Liliana, 1996).

In 1984 the first grass roots environmental group in Hungary-the Danube Committee-was founded to protest against the building of the dam (Liliana, 1996). The Danube committee was represented by an un-official Danube circle and its aim was to voice a vocal, broad-based environmental and anti-communist movement (Liliana, 1996). There were other small groups like the Friends of the Danube and The Blues who were also involved in similar parallel activities like generating public support, demanding the cancellation of the project, etc. The Danube circle got international recognition when they won the alternative noble price- the

Right Livelihood award in 1985 (Liliana, 1996). Due to various reasons the state control in Hungary weakened in 1988 and due to which the Danube circle became an official group. After becoming an official group, the Danube circle initiated a number of activities in co-operation with Austria and various other international non-governmental organizations (Liliana, 1996). Due to the overwhelming support that the Danube circle got in October 1989 the Hungarian parliament decided to abandon Nagymaros station and decided to not construct the dam (Galambos, 1993).

This is how the environmental movement created by the Hungarian grass roots environmental group (Danube Circle) affected the politics and policy making decision in building the dam. Environmental movement in Bulgaria: In the late 1980’s pollution problem intolerable levels throughout Eastern Europe, especially Bulgaria. The intolerable levels pollution caused health problems such as birth defects, cancer and high infant mortality rate (Emily, 1999). When people saw that the pollution was seriously threatening their health people felt they should rally around the environmental issue and demand change.

Protest against the government’s treatment against the environment broke out in major cities throughout the region: twenty thousand marched in Budapest in 1988 and thousands protested in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia one year later (Emily, 1999). Several petitions were handed to the government by newly formed environmental groups regarding the countries severe pollution problem. In the case of Bulgaria the environmental activism was very successful that it paved the way for an avenue of political change on a very large scale (Emily, 1999).

In 1988, one of the first Bulgaria’s activist groups was organized to bring attention a very serious problem in Ruse, a city on the Danube River. Across the river is the Romanian city of Giurgevo. There were chemical plants that were present here. These chemical plants were emitting chlorine on a dangerous level and this caused serious health problems for the residents of Ruse (Emily, 1999). Concerned about their health the people of Ruse joined forced and formed the “Committee for the Ecological Protection of the City of Ruse” (Emily, 1999).

There was lots of criticism about the protest made by the people and the protest was easily suppressed by the government. Eventually though an agreement was made with the Romanian government to correct the problem (Emily 1999). This was an important victory for the committee of Ruse because the committee of Ruse saw this as an opportunity to bring the message of environmental problem to the entire country. This paved the way for the first national environmental movement in Bulgaria and the formation of “Eco-Glasnost” in 1989 (Emily, 1999).

Conclusion: Ecologism and Environmental movement pose important challenges to established political traditions (Carter, 2007). We saw various environmental movements in different parts of Europe and how these movements brought changes to the policy making decisions by their respective governments. Some environmental movement started as in regard to the people’s health safety (Bulgaria and Germany) and some environmental movement started as in regard to the wild life and bio-diversity (UK M3 link and Danube, Hungary).

The question now was whether the outcome of these environmental movements was necessarily good or whether it made the problems even worse. In the case of Bulgaria the environmental movement in Ruse even though it did not solve the problem completely, it paved the way for national recognition and a futuristic prospect for the environmental movement national wide. In Hungary, the outcome of the environmental movement was completely positive as the dam would have caused major destruction to the river and the wildlife that depend on the river. In Germany, the outcome of the environmental movement may not be entirely positive.

This is because the environmental movement only saw the dangerous effects of waste disposal from nuclear power plants rather than seeing the positive side of nuclear power plant as in how much energy it can produce, causes no damage to the surrounding atmosphere, etc. In conclusion an environmental movement affects the established politics and policies through various mechanisms either directly or indirectly, the outcome of the particular environmental movement depends on what the protest of the people is about and what the people want from the movement.


* CARTER, N. (2007), the politics of the Environment: Ideas, Activism and Policy, Chapter 6: Environmental groups, Cambridge: Cambridge University press. * Derek Wall (1999), Earth First! And Anti-Roads movement, Routledge, pp. 59-61. * Emily Lambie (1999), Environmental Activism and Political Change in Bulgaria. * Galambos, J. (1993), an international environmental conflict on the Danube: The Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Dams, pp. 176-226. * Ian Bogdan Vasi (2011), Winds of Change, Oxford scholarship online. Jim Falk (1982), Global Fission: The Battle over Nuclear Power, Oxford University Press, p. 105. * Liliana Botcheva (1996), Focus and Effectiveness of Environmental Activism in Eastern Europe: A Comparative Study of Environmental Movements in Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania. * Robert Benford (1984), The Anti-Nuclear movement (Book review) American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 89, No. 6, (May 1984), pp. 1456-1458. * Walter C Patterson (1986). Nuclear Power Penguin Books, p. 113. * Wolfgang Rudig (1990). Anti-nuclear Movements: A World Survey of Opposition to Nuclear Energy, Longman, p. 63.