Cooperative environmental politics in the shadow of hierarchy. Voluntary agreements in environmental policy in Germany and in international comparison.

Headed by:
Prof. Dr. Annette Elisabeth Töller
Project Status:

Type of project: Habilitation project

Short description

This project examines voluntary environmental agreements, which constitute a qualitatively and quantitatively significant form of cooperative state activity in Germany. The key question is why the state - which has the right to set collectively binding rules – engages in cooperation with societal actors and whether this cooperation actually takes place in the shadow of hierarchy.

Among other aspects, the study analyzes how the application of voluntary environmental agreements developed through time across four problem areas of environmental policy: Health protection (use of asbestos in construction both underground and above ground 1980-1994; use of PCP in wood preservative 1978-1994; phase-out nuclear energy 1998-2022); classic environmental protection (use of NTA in detergent 1981-1989; emission of EDTA in water 1986-2001); waste (beverage packaging 1975-2005; batteries 1978-1998; end-of-life cars 1990-2002 and waste electronic equipment 1990-2005); climate protection (use of CFCs in spray bottles 1976-1991; production of CFCs from 1989 until 1995; reducing CO2 emissions; climate declaration by the German industry 1990-1996; reducing CO2 emission through combined heat and power generation 1999-2002). The widespread claim that cooperative state activity increases both in frequency and significance, which has been taken as evidence of a new category of state described as the cooperative state, appears in need of revision judging from the cases analyzed here.

Concerning the phenomenon to be explained, the major scientific contribution this analysis makes is to systematize the topic and to describe the application of voluntary agreements in Germany through time. Identifying recent developments has been crucial, since these are not characterized by increase or even stabilization, but rather a decrease in voluntary agreements. Furthermore, the study sets out to explain these developments, particularly the contingent effects of European regulation on national policy design as well as indicating the significance of party politics in choosing the form of state activities. This puts into perspective the limits of authoritative forms of action on the one hand, and the particular functionality of cooperative forms on the other hand, when explaining the application of voluntary environmental agreements. Another contribution this study makes lies in its empirically informed problematization of received wisdom about cooperative politics, namely that cooperation between state and society takes place in the “shadow of hierarchy”.

Additional studies analyze voluntary environmental agreements from a comparative perspective with the United States and the Netherlands.


Annette Elisabeth Töller: The Rise and Fall of Voluntary Agreements in Germany Environmental Policy, in: German Policy Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2013, pp. 49-92.

Annette Elisabeth Töller; Michael Böcher: Introduction: What is the Role of Voluntary Approaches in German Environmental Policy - and Why?, in: German Policy Studies, Vol. 9., No. 2, 2013, pp. 1-20.

Annette Elisabeth Töller: Warum kooperiert der Staat? Kooperative Umweltpolitik im Schatten der Hierarchie. Schriftenreihe Staatslehre und politische Verwaltung, Baden-Baden, 2012, further information: [link]

Annette Elisabth Töller: Voluntary Approaches to Regulation- Patterns, Causes and Effects, in: David Levi-Faur (ed.): The Handbook of the Politics Regulation, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2011, pp. 499-510.

Annette Elisabeth Töller: Kooperation als Trend? Verwendungsmuster und Ursachen kooperativer Politikformen in den Niederlanden, Deutschland und den USA, in: Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2008, pp. 315-346.

Annette Elisabeth Töller: Kooperation im Schatten der Hierarchie: Dilemmata des Ver­handelns zwischen Staat und Wirtschaft, in: Gunnar Folke Schuppert/Michael Zürn (eds.): Governance in einer sich wandelnden Welt, PVS Special Issue, Wiesbaden, 2008, pp. 282-312.

Annette Elisabeth Töller: Die Rückkehr des befehlenden Staates? Muster und Ursachen der Veränderung staatlicher Handlungsformen in der deutschen Abfallpolitik, in: Politische Vierteljahresschrift, Vol. 48, No. 1, 2007, pp. 64-94.

Annette Elisabeth Töller: Warum kooperiert der Staat? Politische Steuerung durch Umweltvereinbarungen, in: Edgar Grande/Rainer Prätorius (eds.): Politische Steuerung und neue Staatlichkeit, Baden-Baden, 2003, pp. 155-18.