The European Union's environment policy, based on Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), aims to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment and to protect human health. It also focuses on the careful and rational use of natural resources and contributes to promoting, at international level, measures intended to combat regional or global environmental problems, tackling climate change, in particular.
It is based on the precautionary, preventive action, correction at source and "polluter pays" principles.
The Sixth Environment Action Programme, adopted in 2002, defines the priorities and objectives of European environmental policy until 2010, concentrating on four priority areas: climate change; nature and biodiversity; environment, health and quality of life; and natural resources and wastes. It is complemented by seven thematic strategies in the following areas: atmospheric pollution, waste, the marine environment, soils, pesticides, natural resources and the urban environment.
Over the past thirty years, European environmental action has evolved from the resolution of certain specific problems to a more horizontal, preventive and integrated approach. The idea of "sustainable development" was enshrined as one of the objectives of the Union in the Amsterdam Treaty, and the mainstreaming of environmental protection has been reinforced in other Community policies.
It has been made easier for a Member State to apply stricter standards than the harmonised standards, as long as they are compatible with the Treaty and communicated to the Commission.
Most of the Union acts in this area have been adopted in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, with the exception of certain fields such as fiscal provisions, land use planning or areas that significantly affect Member States' choices with regard to energy.