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Towards a strategy for soil protection
To formulate a plan with a view to developing a Community strategy for soil protection.
Communication of 16 April 2002 from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Towards a Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection [COM (2002) 179 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
One of the objectives of the Sixth Environmental Action Programme is to protect soils against erosion and pollution. It is to fulfil this objective that the Commission is publishing this Communication, which paves the way for developing a strategy on soil protection. For the purpose of this Communication, soil is defined as the top layer of the earth's crust, formed by mineral particles, organic matter, water, air and living organisms.
This Communication describes the functions of soil, which include:
- producing food,
- storing, filtering and transforming minerals, water, organic matter, gases, etc.,
- providing raw materials,
- being the platform for human activity.
The Communication also identifies the main threats to soil in Europe: erosion, decline in organic matter, soil contamination, soil sealing (caused by the covering of soil for housing, roads and other infrastructure), soil compaction (caused by mechanical pressure through the use of heavy machinery, overgrazing or sporting activities), decline in soil biodiversity, salinisation (excessive accumulation of soluble salts of sodium, magnesium and calcium) and floods and landslides. All these processes are either driven or exacerbated by human activity and some degradation processes have increased over recent decades. The economic consequences and restoration costs linked to the threats to soil are huge.
The Communication examines the international initiatives taken to address soil degradation, as well as action undertaken by EU Member States and Candidate Countries. As regards Community initiatives as such, the Communication stresses that an explicit Community policy does not exist at this stage. However, measures implemented under other policies (environmental, agricultural, regional, transport, research) contribute to soil protection.
Building blocks of a thematic strategy
It is therefore essential that the EU develop a Community thematic strategy for soil. This strategy will be presented in 2004. It will take into consideration the principles of precaution, anticipation and environmental responsibility, and will focus on initiatives already being undertaken in environmental policies, better integration of soil protection in other policies, soil monitoring and new actions based on monitoring results.
In environmental policy, new legislation will supplement existing legislation:
- in 2002: 4th Daughter Directive on air quality and a directive on mining waste;
- in 2003: revision of the Sewage Sludge Directive and Communication on Planning and Environment, focusing on sustainable use of soil;
- by the end of 2004: directive on compost and other biowaste.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will encourage organic farming, the maintenance of terraces, safer pesticide use, use of certified compost, forestry, afforestation and other measures for soil protection. Under the review of the CAP, the Commission intends to expand the financial commitment to rural development and soil protection.
As regards soil monitoring, the Commission will propose, by June 2004, legislation on a Community information and monitoring system for soil threats. This monitoring will provide the basis for future legislative initiatives and will be used as a tool to adjust and review existing policies in the field of soil protection.