The European Union and New Zealand became a little closer with the arrival of Eliška Ullrichová, Ngā Ara Whetū’s first visiting scholar.
Usually based at Charles University in Prague, Ullrichová visited the University of Auckland’s research centre on Climate, Biodiversity and Society for a focused research trip to complete a paper on European Union’s environmental policies.
With her time in New Zealand up, Ngā Ara Whetū Ullrichová caught up with Ullrichová to talk about her time at the University of Auckland.
“I think New Zealand can offer quite a lot to the rest of the world,” said Ullrichová. “It’s a big country, even though it has a low population (in comparison to many EU countries), and it has a lot of experience with climate change and is affected by natural disasters,” said Ullrichová.
“New Zealand was the second after the European Union to join the Emission Trading System, and it is the only country that has forestry included under the system, which I think it’s really important. We are having discussions in the European Union, so there are opportunities to learn from you.”
Alongside her dedicated study time with Ngā Ara Whetū, Ullrichová held a seminar on her research to an array of academics and students, she participated in Ngā Ara Whetū’s Climate Solutions Workshop, and established international transdisciplinary research connections with staff.
It might sound counterintuitive but Ullrichová came to Aotearoa New Zealand to study Europe’s institutions. But Ullrichová said sometimes you must step outside your surroundings to understand better where you’re from.
With her background as a scholar in agenda-setting, environmental policy, and EU studies, her research asks the questions: How actionable are the EU’s environmental policies or are they symbolic? And who are the drivers of policy change?
Ullrichová said the European Union’s environmental policies are often considered some of the most progressive in the world. While the EU’s policies are commendable in many ways, they can sometimes be more performative than actionable. That is, the EU’s environmental policies often emphasize symbolism and rhetoric rather than substantive action. Spending time at the University of Auckland with Ngā Ara Whetū has allowed her to gain an outside perspective.
There are a number of central decision-making institutions which lead the European Union’s administration. One of the most visible of those is the European Council, which is comprised of the heads of state from each EU country, for example, French President Emmanuel Macron. “While I was in New Zealand, I was looking at the European Council and its role in environmental policy making,” Ullrichová said.
“The European Council actually followed other actors in the European Union. They followed their approaches and adopted them, which helped support the policies, of course, which pushed them to have greater political salience. But it’s not a driver as an institution”
The assumption in political literature was that the European Council lead and the other institutions followed, said Ullrichová. But what she found was the opposite. “The European Council actually followed other actors in the European Union. They followed their approaches and adopted them, which helped support the policies, of course, which pushed them to have greater political salience. But it’s not a driver as an institution,” said Ullrichová.
While it is commendable that the EU is addressing environmental issues, it is essential we understand how environmental policy is made and driven, said Ullrichová. Her research is timely, as it provides an opportunity to critically examine the EU’s environmental policies and identify areas for improvement coinciding with the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in March.
You can read Eliška Ullrichová’s article on Agenda-Setting and the European Council here or find her on twitter at @EUllrichova.