In this article, the German Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety analyzes the role of the nation state in international environmental policy. With reference to the European Union, he argues that independent national environmental policy no longer exists inside the Union. Brussels now has greater influence on environmental legislation than any nation state in Europe—a development that the minister expressly welcomes. He argues that it has proven highly useful for Union members to speak with one voice at global environmental conferences and to present a united front just like one strong nation state. On the other hand, the communitarization within Europe does not prevent members from becoming front-runners in environmental policy. The minister further calls for changes at the global level to ensure that global environmental institutions and environmental law are given much greater weight. The historic task of nation states today is to introduce global environmental legislation that is more powerful than any nation state or any transnational corporation. The German government therefore strongly favors transforming UNEP into a world environment organization that can stand up to the WTO, the FAO and transnational corporations.

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Author notes

The writer is the Federal Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany. The text is based on a keynote address delivered on 8 December 2001 at the 2001 Berlin Conference on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change “Global Environmental Change and the Nation State.” The minister has revised and updated his contribution for this special issue.