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
- shortcomings in administrative capacities
- weak national and regional enforcement policies and practices
- under-investment or delayed investment in the necessary infrastructure to
The main ways in which the Commission will
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
- 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
Communication on implementing European Community environmental law
Information on implementation of European Community environmental law
 COM/2007/0502 final