The Fragility of Norms: The Rise and Decline of the Eu's 'sustainable Biofuel' Policy
In order to come to terms with the policy-turn, I will propose a change of perspective concerning norm-guided action in policy-making by highlighting its its fragile dimension as engine and subject of change, rather than portraying norms as solid standards of appropriateness. I will argue that the rise of biofuels in the EU legislation relied on the European Commission as a political entrepreneur to construct the notion of 'sustainable biofuels' during the 1990s and early 2000s, which was based on the creative weaving and together of inconclusive scientific studies, perceived interests, and uncertain future expectations. On the one hand, this constructed link between the concrete biofuel-policy and the abstract sustainability-norm was taken for granted and succesfully used to legitimate the current promotion of biofuels. On the other hand, the link turned out to be inherenlly fragile and broke down when central promises that it was legitimated with were put into question by scientific studies in 2007 and 2008. Most importantly in this reagard were studies that identified biofuels as a driver for increasing GHG emission in the transport sector. Subsequently, rhetorically entrapped in the need to legitimate biofuels in the name of a sustainable development, and under pressure or NGOs, IOs, and scientists who now re-constructed the relation between the sustainability-norm and conventional biofuels as one of contradiction, the Commission had no other choice than to propose to take back their own policy.
After having put forward this explanation for the rise and decline of the EU's biofuel-policy, I will use Sabel and Zeitlin's notion of 'experimentalist governance' as the normative standard to evaluate the policy-process. I will argue that from this perspective it is especially the European Council and the general ignorance towards local knowledge that acts as a hindrance to the ideal of an experimentalist process of governance.