Data on popular concern for the environment is available from Eurobarometer from 1974-1987 (see figure 2), and it appears that environmental concern has been pronounced in all four countries since 1970, with an increase during the 1980s (Eurobarometer 1974-90). In terms of popular support for environmental policies, preconditions have thus been reasonably similar as well.
How shall we judge the success of the water quality programmes? Data on achieved water quality is not a good indicator of the ‘success’ of environmental policies, since differences in basic environmental conditions make it inappropriate to use actual water quality to infer the effects of the policy. Furthermore, there are different sources of pollution, and it was mainly point sources of industry and cities that were the concern of the early environmental laws, while plural sources of agricultural nutrients did not become subject to regulation until the mid-1980s. Emission data, therefore, offer a more reliable measure of the effects of pollution control. We are interested in the ability of various programmes, and in particular of economic instruments, to rectify pollution at the source.
Despite its size, Denmark has a rather decentralised system of public administration. Some 277 municipalities and 14 counties are responsible for many public services, and local income taxes make up 30 per cent of total income taxation. In fact, no other local authorities in the EU have such a large direct share of revenue. One important reason for policy traditions being inclined towards decentralisation is found in the influential farmers’cooperative movement that emerged in the 19th century, This movement was strongly opposed to rule by decree from Copenhagen (Morch, 1982). The libertarian preference was reinforced by a 1968 administrative reform giving municipalities and counties a more important role in all policy sectors, including environmental policy.
Consequently, local authorities became the crucial element in a comprehensive planning and permit scheme intended to control pollution of surface waters. There were not any binding national emission standards; instead, a water quality approach was adopted in which the counties classified local surface waters according to the level of pollution and set performance targets for improvements. Dischargers in need of a permit would receive one on the basis of local targets for the improvement of water quality (von Eyben, 1989).
The use of economic instruments for pollution control was considered, but not introduced. In the words of the then-Minister of the Environment, the use of such instruments would imply "that those who can afford it will be allowed to pollute, and those who cannot afford it will not be allowed, and we don’t want to bring class policy into environmental policy" (Folketingets forhandlinger, 1973). A welfare ideology had penetrated public policy-making for nearly 20 years, and egalitarianism was a pronounced principle.
A corporatist political system had developed, too, and consensus had to be reached with the most important interest organisations before legislation was passed. During implementation, there was further room for negotiations on everything from guidelines to local permits, especially with the influential Federation of Danish Industries. This was in accordance with the tradition for broad framework laws that had evolved with corporatism. Under this tradition, it was also usual to establish administrative courts with representatives of affected interests. To check the powers of the Ministry of the Environment, an in- dependent Environmental Appeals Board, consisting of experts appointed by various interest organisations and the Ministry, was set up to handle complaints on environmental permits (Andersen, 1989).