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The Environment as Legal Concept in the Law of the European Union

Anna-Julia Saiger


How does European Union law define the concept of the environment? Different, partly contrary regulatory purposes, conceptual understandings and mechanisms permeate both primary and secondary EU environmental law. It mixes anthropocentric and non anthropocentric legal purposes with causal, media-related and vital regulatory approaches. The case law of the ECJ complements this heterogenous body of law. Lastly, the scope of the concept of the environment depends on the respective norm context. This article assesses the dynamic character of the concept of the environment and outlines the effects on the interpretation and implementation of environmental norms. To a certain extent, the environment as an external factor eludes regulatory influence. Therefore, from a legal perspective, a relational understanding of the term is needed. The article concludes that contradictions in the interpretation of the concept of the environment in EU law are reflected in the positioning of humans in relation to the environment. It calls for a discussion on this relationship to enable EU environmental law to establish a coherent regulatory approach and overcome obstacles in effective implementation of environmental protection.

Doctoral candidate at Humboldt University, Berlin, doctoral programme EPEDER – Unity and Difference in the European Legal Area. This contribution constitutes a revised form of the dissertation written at King’s College, London, in November 2017.

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