When adopted in 1993, the European Union's Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) was viewed as emblematic of a new policy approach involving more flexible and market-based environmental instruments. A few years after coming into force, EMAS does not appear to be a tremendous success in terms of industrial participation. Apart from in Germany and Austria, participation is insignificant and comparatively very far behind that in ISO 14001, the environmental management standard of the International Organization for Standardization. The paper seeks to explain this modest result. It focuses on the influence of the European and national regulators on industrial participation. Using a comparative analysis of the implementation of EMAS in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, it argues that the most powerful participation leverage has been the granting of regulatory relief for registered companies. This leads one to be pessimistic as to the future of EMAS. The possibility and scope for a lighter regulatory touch are primarily nationally specific since they are related to the national regulatory traditions. Consequently, the systematic and comprehensive use of this leverage is unlikely to generalize. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. and ERP Environment.