This paper investigates the existing Italian regulation regarding the so-called “administration by agreements” and the possibility to adapt the existing legal system to voluntary agreements in the environmental field in the light of the European guidelines on this issue. The research consists of two parts. The first one presents a valuation of the Italian public administration system and a comparison of the relevant laws. It also discusses the principles of “subsidiarity”, flexibility and administrative simplification. The second part is aimed at highlighting the results of an empirical study of some selected voluntary agreements signed by Italian local and regional administrations with the private sector. This empirical part relies on a general survey carried out by Feem with the aid of questionnaires addressed both to public and private sectors. The paper assesses a number of existing environmental voluntary agreements in the light of the check-list suggested by the European Commission in its Communication on environmental agreements (COM(96) 561 final, 27/11/96). It also illustrates that in Italy there is no univocal definition of “voluntary agreements” and no “ad hoc” legal framework for regulating them. Nowadays, the only definition of “voluntary agreements” as such is provided in the Ronchi Decree and it is specifically related to the waste sector. Moreover both the Ronchi Decree and the recent Legislative Decree no.152/99 on water protection stimulate public authorities to promote and sign voluntary agreements. As the research shows, the absence of a legal framework of reference leads public administrations to stipulate voluntary agreements having the form of “protocol of intent”, which is a common policy instrument without any binding juridical structure. However, it is now recognised by those public administrations and private parties having experience in co-operating together that a more formal structure for voluntary agreements is important in order to ensure their transparency and effectiveness as policy instruments. This need is also confirmed by the law project proposed in 1999 at the Italian Chamber of Deputies