Priorities, policies and procedures that impact on the environment
Being able to effectively tackle environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, or waste prevention does not only depend on the specific laws and policies adopted in those areas; it also depends upon how these issues are addressed within the overall political priorities and economic policies as well as through horizontal principles, rules and procedures.
High-level policy frameworks and principles are sometimes supportive, such as the Seventh Environmental Action Programme (7EAP) which has set out a comprehensive environmental agenda agreed by the Commission, the Member States and the European Parliament, or the precautionary and ‘polluter pays’ principles; or they may be a hindrance, such as the Juncker Commission’s ten priorities which downplay EU environmental priorities and focus on the so-called ‘better regulation’ agenda, where ‘fitness checks’ under the REFIT programme are too often oriented towards reducing regulatory costs to industry as opposed to finding more effective ways to achieve a policy’s objectives.
Procedural instruments play a crucial role in supporting more transparent, rational decision-making processes related to the environment. Apart from the Aarhus Convention and the related EU measures, examples of such instruments are:
- Environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA): introduced back in 1985, the EU’s original EIA directive has gone through several changes and remains an important tool enabling decision makers and the public to foresee the environmental implications of a proposed project and thereby integrate environmental considerations into the decision-making process. SEA is intended to play a similar role in relation to decisions on plans, programmes, policies and legislation.
- Measures to promote better implementation are essential, given the Member States’ generally poor record in fully complying with EU environmental laws. The Commission as the ‘guardian of the Treaties’ has the primary responsibility for enforcing EU laws and should do so more vigorously. The recently introduced system of environmental implementation review (EIR) can be a useful complementary measure, helping to put the spotlight on areas where there are problems with implementation. NGOs and the wider public can also play an important role in promoting better implementation and thereby upholding the rule of law if effective access to justice is available.
- Effective means to gather information, whether through systems of environmental reporting or through environmental inspections, are also important.
- Other instruments establish accountability for damage caused to the environment, e.g. the Environment Liability Directive and the Environmental Crime Directive.
- Environmental fiscal reform, involving the removal of environmentally harmful subsidies and a shift in the burden of taxation onto pollution and resource consumption, is needed to counter the ‘externalisation’ of environmental costs and thus support the ‘polluter pays’ principle. The European Semester that was introduced in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008 in order to ensure responsible management of national public finances has the potential to be used to promote environmental fiscal reform though this potential has yet to be fully realized.
While much progress has been made through these instruments, much remains to be done. With its extensive membership and broad policy expertise, the EEB is well placed to engage in such horizontal issues, including through its Law Group where legal issues are concerned. Having played a leading role in pushing for a strong 7EAP, in the coming years we will continue to push for its full implementation and advocate for an ambitious 8EAP within the framework of an EU 2030 Strategy for Sustainable Development. We will also seek to counter the push for deregulation by ensuring that relevant fitness checks are not undermining environmental objectives and opposing any trade and investment agreements that threaten to undermine the EU’s environmental laws and policies or prevent its further development by limiting the EU’s regulatory autonomy.
Number of times the word ‘environment’ appears in Juncker’s Political Guidelines. Three of these references are to the ‘investment environment’, the ‘regulatory environment’ and the ‘business environment’ respectively.
Proportion of EU citizens who think the EU should be able to check that environmental laws are being applied correctly.