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Brussels, 18 November 2008

Environment: Commission proposes to improve implementation of environmental law

The Commission has set out plans to improve the implementation of the European Union's 200 or so laws on environmental protection. This fits within a wider Commission strategy for improving implementation of EU law announced in 2007, and coincides with the publication of the new Annual Report of the Commission on monitoring the application of Community Law in general. The Communication stresses the need for close cooperation with Member States to ensure that national implementing rules are correct and adopted on time, and that shared goals are effectively achieved. Where serious problems persist – such as tolerance of illegal landfills or multiple failures to treat urban waste-water – the Commission will favour strategic legal action over a piecemeal approach.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "We must ensure that Europe actually puts into practice the environmental measures that have been agreed. In the light of this Communication, I look forward to working even more closely with Member States. This includes preparing high quality laws that take implementation aspects fully into account, and also means preparing well for the implementation of laws. Where quicker and simpler ways can be found to resolve problems, these should be used. Where legal action proves necessary, the Commission intends to make it as efficient and consistent as possible".

Current problems of implementation

The application of EU environmental law requires particular efforts in terms of improving infrastructure, putting in place appropriate administrative arrangements and facilitating citizen participation.

The body of EU environment legislation is broad and ambitious, covering such issues as climate change, air quality, waste management, protection of water resources and biodiversity, controls on chemicals and environmental impact assessment. It needs to be applied to a wide range of natural conditions, under very varied national and regional administrative arrangements, and in situations that often have a cross-border dimension.

These factors can lead to a number of common implementation problems, namely:

  • insufficient attention to deadlines and correctness during the adoption of national and regional legislation
  • shortcomings in knowledge and awareness in national and regional administrations
  • shortcomings in administrative capacities
  • weak national and regional enforcement policies and practices
  • under-investment or delayed investment in the necessary infrastructure to reduce pollution

The main ways in which the Commission will act

Improvements in implementation are more likely to result from combined measures that address a number of aspects of implementation, and these will therefore be preferred.

  • Prevention of breaches. Good implementation begins with prevention, and the Communication recognises this by stressing the need to design and prepare European legislation properly. Good quality information is also needed about how it works in practice. Community funds can help Member States apply the legislation as required, enabling them to secure the necessary major investments, to upgrade water supplies, for example. Guidance documents, regular dialogue and support activities such as those that precede EU membership can all smooth implementation work at national level. Comparative "scoreboards" showing how Member States are fulfilling certain tasks can also be a stimulus to better efforts.
  • Working with Member States to solve problems highlighted by citizens and NGOs. Good environmental protection requires the involvement of citizens. NGOs also play an important rule in identifying issues and raising environmental awareness. The Commission is therefore aiming to secure good implementation of "environmental rights" legislation, and is acting to support Member States efforts to respond constructively to individual concerns. On a trial basis, environment expertise will be available in Commission Representations in Madrid, Lisbon, Rome and Warsaw to help national officials as well as citizens.
  • More strategic and intensive enforcement work. To maximise the effectiveness of its enforcement work, the Commission will focus on breaches that are fundamental or systemic. These include major defects in national implementing rules as well as problems such as widespread tolerance of illegal landfills, serious gaps in permitting for major industries and lack of designation of key nature sites.
  • Dialogue with European Parliament. The European Parliament relays an array of implementation concerns to the Commission. The Commission values these exchanges and will continue to work closely with the institutions to achieve improved application of laws.

Overall, the Communication gives specific environmental content to more general Commission plans to improve implementation presented in 2007 in "A Europe of Results – Applying EU Law".[1]

Further information:

Communication on implementing European Community environmental law

Information on implementation of European Community environmental law

[1] COM/2007/0502 final

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