Southern Europeans are sidestepping their governments to get help with environmental problems direct from the European Union, a conference on environmental policy heard.
The trend is one example of the huge impact of European environmental legislation on the south, according to Geoffrey Pridham, director of the centre for Mediterranean studies at the University of Bristol.
He was speaking after a conference on the single market, environmental standards and the politics of expertise in Europe held at Bristol University recently.
"The assumptions that the southern countries are less good at getting their act together (environmentally) are broadly true," said Professor Pridham.
But "there are signs that even in countries where the national committees are not that hot on environmental policy there's this local influence. It would seem to hold out the potential for more sustainable policy on the environment".
The movement often arises when a local economic interest is damaged by environmental degradation, he said. Decay of historical monuments because of traffic fumes, efforts at ecotourism on Greek islands and protests against threats to the Tuscany wine-growing areas all follow this pattern.
"The phenomenon ties in with local pride, which we get in southern countries," he said.
The conference was told that experts' role in making EUdecisions has changed dramatically.
Michelle Cini, of the department of politics at Bristol University, said that the role of the expert is now influenced by two opposing factors.
On one hand, there has been a "rise of a broad-based environmental consciousness within Europe" which has led to non-scientists and the public making more demands on the policy-making processes. On the other hand EU environmental policy has been rationalised, for example by creating an environmental agency which will be an important resource for policy makers.