Public opinion and European Union environmental legislative proposals

Segal, Andrew T.
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This research project explores how public opinion of the European Union (EU) impacts the EU’s decision to enacts laws through either regulations or directives. Regulations and directives are the main mechanisms of legal action emerging from the EU and understanding why the EU chooses to take legal action using one over the other is important for understanding how decision-making functions within the organization. Until now, the literature has been comfortable separating these two mechanisms of legislative action at certain times while grouping them together at others; specifically, public opinion data has yet to be applied when differentiating between the two. This paper contributes to the literature on EU public policy by offering a robust statistical analysis showing that EU proposals for regulations and directives react to public opinion very differently. Using vector autoregression analysis, I show that while environmental regulation proposals appear to be influenced by both policy-specific public attention as well as the interaction of policy-specific attention and public opinion of EU institutions, directives do not seem to be responsive to the public at all. In contrast with previous research, I do not find an unconditional link between public opinion of the EU and legislative outputs. Instead, I find that this relationship is conditional on policy-specific public opinion. These findings affirm, for regulations at least, previous research on the importance of issue-salience for the production of public policy, while also countering the narrative of the EU as anti-democratic. The findings evidence the need for future researchers to differentiate between regulations and directives in discussions on the relationship between public opinion and EU policy outputs, as combining them could lead to false conclusions about the EU’s legislative responsiveness when in reality results may be driven by only one of the EU’s two main legislative methods.