Environmental Democratisation: Assessing the Impact of Democratisation on Environmental Capacity in South and Southeastern Europe

Publication Date01 August 2015
Date01 August 2015
AuthorThomas O'Brien
Environmental Democratisation: Assessing the
Impact of Democratisation on Environmental
Capacity in South and Southeastern Europe
Thomas O’Brien
Cranf‌ield University
Although a relationship between established democratic political systems and environmental capacity has been
described, the impact of the democratisation process on environmental capacity is not clear. The aim of this article
is to determine the effect of both prior regime type and mode of transition on environmental capacity, through
consideration of the cases of Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Spain. In addition, the importance of the European
Union (EU) as an external actor shaping environmental capacity building is assessed. Findings indicate that variations
in prior regime type and mode of transition had limited impact on environmental capacity development. Of greater
importance were the persistent non-democratic legacies that inf‌luenced behaviours and actions during the
democratisation period. The requirements of the EU were fundamental in ensuring that environmental issues
remained on the domestic political agenda in such a context.
Keywords: non-democratic legacies; administrative capacity; civil society; European
Union; democratisation
Previous studies have shown that democratic states perform better than non-democratic
states when dealing with a range of environmental issues (see Li and Reuveny, 2006;
Ward, 2008; Winslow, 2005). Stronger performance in this area has been linked to the
degree of openness within democratic systems, allowing for issues of concern to the public
to be identif‌ied and addressed (see Barry, 1999; Dryzek, 1988; Lidskog and Elander, 2007).
These negative feedback mechanisms provide legitimate channels for the expression of
discontent and sharing of information with the state (Dryzek, 1988). Although this
does not preclude the failure of democratic states to address environmental issues
(Blühdorn, 2013), opportunities for effective remedies to be identif‌ied and implemented
are increased.1
The impact of moving from authoritarianism to democracy on environmental perfor-
mance has been less well described than the effect of regime type per se. There is no
predetermined path to democracy; each state democratises within the specif‌ic contextual
constraints it faces (Tilly, 2004). The uncertainty inherent within democratisation may
present challenges to the development of environmental capacity in the short term,
as institutions and relationships are established and redef‌ined. The nature of the
democratisation process therefore requires consideration. This article focuses on two
aspects in particular: the prior (non-democratic) regime type, and the mode of transition.
Katherine Hite and Leonardo Morlino (2004) argue that the form of prior regime type is
important as it determines the non-democratic legacy and structures that democratising
agents must either work with or challenge. The mode of transition can help determine
whether there is a more complete break with the previous non-democratic regime, or a
doi: 10.1111/1467-9248.12114
POLITICAL STUDIES: 2015 VOL 63, 589–607
© 2014 The Author. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
degree of continuation (Munck and Leff, 1997). Together, these characteristics determine
the conf‌iguration of actors and structure shaping the democratisation process.
The aim of this article is to determine the effects of prior regime type and mode of
transition on environmental capacity, by examining democratisation in the four European
states of Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Spain.
Research on democratisation has highlighted the importance of external inf‌luences on
democratisation and on the decisions made by democratising states (Tolstrup, 2013).
Examining states that have partially democratised, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way (2010)
argue that the degree to which a state is integrated into the international political system
plays an important role in determining whether democracy will be achieved. This issue is
signif‌icant in the cases examined in this article, as each received support from the European
Union (EU) during their respective democratisations. Although the EU was important in
supporting democratisation, the extent to which it has inf‌luenced domestic policy making
has been contested (see Goetz, 2001). It is therefore important to determine whether EU
support penetrated to the level of domestic policy making and shaping changes in
environmental capacity.
The article begins by examining the literature on democratisation and environmental
capacity, with a focus on the key arguments and the nature of the relationship. Following
this, the second section describes the methodology for this study, detailing the interviews
conducted and the supplementary data assessed. In the third section, the article examines
the characteristics and development of democratisation and environmental capacity in
Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Spain. The f‌inal section considers the relationship
between CO2emissions and GDP in the four countries, before bringing together the
f‌indings to address the core aim of the article.
Democratisation and Environmental Capacity
Democratisation of a state is a complex, f‌luid process, involving signif‌icant upheaval as
roles are redef‌ined and institutions rebuilt. In a review of the literature, Doh Chull Shin
(1994, p. 143; see also Schneider and Schmitter, 2004) identif‌ied four common stages:
decay of non-democratic rule, transition, consolidation and maturation of the political
order. Although there have been disagreements about the utility of this conceptualisation
(see Carothers, 2002; O’Donnell, 2002), it provides a useful framework within which more
detailed analysis can take place. Central to any democratisation process is the transition
stage, as this clears the space for the new political order to emerge. Recent analyses have
argued that transitions from non-democratic regimes do not automatically result in democ-
racy, with some states moving towards new forms of non-democratic regime type or
developing relatively stable semi-democratic hybrid systems (Bogaards, 2009; Levitsky and
Way, 2010). The divergent trajectories are determined by the existing social and political
context, as well as the character of the regime change itself.
Prior non-democratic regime type is an important factor inf‌luencing the form of
democratisation, determining the context within which change takes place. Signif‌icant
features of prior regime type include the formal institutional architecture to be reformed,
as well as values and patterns of behaviour that were introduced and entrenched during the
non-democratic period (Hite and Morlino, 2004). Three factors have been identif‌ied in
© 2014 The Author. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association

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