The aim of this thesis has been to illuminate to what extent the Hungarian political-administrative system has changed traditional national policy in order to cope with EU requirements for acquiring membership. In line with the other Acceding Countries, Hungary is required to be able to implement the acquis prior to entering the Union. Further; Eastern enlargement of the EU has been characterized by an unprecedented involvement of EU actors in governance issues of the candidate countries. This is another reason for expecting radical changes in Hungarian policy, in line with theories of environmental pressure. On the other hand, a focus on the autonomy of national institutions would predict continuity rather than change in line with theories of institutional robustness. Combining these views, a transformative perspective is applied in this thesis, emphasizing the complementary qualities of macro- and meso-level explanations. National decision-makers in Hungary need to adhere to EU demands, as well as seeking solutions that are compatible with national institutional traditions. In this way, any implementation of EU policy is deemed to be specific to each country and their national institutional traditions, including the Acceding Countries.
A case of Hungarian environmental policy is chosen to test the abovementioned scenario. Environmental Impact Assessment is a policy instrument that catches the essence of the EU’s approach to environmental management. According to the EU EIA Directive, all planned projects that are believed to have a significant impact on the environment need to go through EIAs. This is a procedure where the initiator of a project has to send an application to the authorities, explaining i.a. expected effects on the environment and providing suggestions of how to reduce impacts that may prove detrimental to environmental conditions. A central feature of this policy instrument is to involve all stakeholders in the process, collecting as much information as possible in order to reach an informed decision. As such, an EIA is participative, trying to involve the civil society, and it is integrative, having ambitions of integrating environmental considerations in other policy sectors. Indeed, it is based on principles of sustainable development, with a focus on prevention rather than reaction.
EIA is a rather new instrument in a Hungarian context, and its appliance is certainly a huge challenge to any political system with a state socialist past. Basically, findings confirmed initial assumptions derived from a transformative perspective. The Hungarian EIA system has changed due to pressure from the EU, but it still works in an institutional setting that is marked by continuity rather than innovation. Changes have been incremental and proceeded within the frames of traditional, national institutions. In its implementation, EU EIA policy has been adjusted to the specific Hungarian context. As such, this study may be a contribution to proving the relevance of an institutional robustness hypothesis even in former state socialist states.