Ideas, coalitions and compromise: reinterpreting EU-ETS lobbying through discursive institutionalism

Oscar Fitch-Roy, Jenny Fairbrass, David Benson

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Collective political action among divergent interest groups is not always easy. It requires coordination, compromise and, often, the persuasive action of a policy entrepreneur. Coalition strategies are often shaped by participants’ skill in mobilising ideas. Business-environmental coalitions – often considered ‘strange bedfellows’ – have proved to be important in emissions trading policy-making. In 2013, chronically low emissions prices meant that the EU’s climate policy flagship, the EU-ETS, was holed beneath the waterline. But, within two years and against the odds, ambitious reforms were agreed to steady the ship. Crucial to the rescue were the actions of a pro-ETS business lobby, orchestrated by environmentalists. We draw on thirty-two in-depth interviews to construct a discursive institutionalist account of collective interest representation in relation to the reforms. We highlight the ability of policy entrepreneurs to fashion a ‘change-but-no-change’ pro-reform narrative attractive to businesses, despite the fact that such discursive strategies risked marginalising alternative and more disruptive ideas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-101
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of European Public Policy
Issue number1
Early online date15 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Emissions trading
  • Strange bedfellow coalitions
  • Policy entrepreneurship
  • Climate policy
  • Interest representation
  • Energy policy

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