Having explained their adoption, analysts are now trying to understand how EU environmental policies have subsequently evolved over time. In 2003, David Vogel famously speculated that having overtaken the US in the environmental race to the top, EU policies would also eventually succumb to policy gridlock, i.e. neither expanding nor dismantling. Empirical research has since confirmed that EU policy expansion is in decline, but less is known about why dismantling has also been very limited. This article breaks new ground by reconfiguring dismantling – a concept developed for national policy systems – to explain the various dismantling strategies deployed at EU level (1992 to 2016). It finds that the absence of significant dismantling is due both to the symbolic nature of early dismantling attempts and the failure of more recent attempts to build coalitions that overcome institutional obstacles to policy change in the EU.