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SPEECH/11/225

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

What kind of growth for Europe?

Parliamentary hearing with European and Environment Committees of the Chamber of Deputies and the Italian Senate

Rome, 29 March 2011

I am here today to share with you the priorities I have set for my term.

My first year as the Commissioner for environment, has been marked by continuation of an unprecedented economic crisis. This is not the easiest time to take responsibility for environment, but looking after the environment remains as necessary as ever – maybe with different emphases as before.

The Commission has developed in the first year of its mandate the EU 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. This is a comprehensive attempt to shape our policies for the next decade to ensure more sustainable growth.

We need growth, but it must be quality growth. In the 20th Century the world population grew four times, and economic output 40 times. We increased our fossil fuel use by 16 times, our fishing catches by 35, and our water use by 9.

This kind of growth is clearly not sustainable.

This is why we need a longer term vision, for 2050, which gives us a perspective for fundamentally changing the way we produce and consume. We must stop wasting our finite and costly resources.

We have made progress in this direction. The recent European State of the Environment Report shows that we are on track on issues such as water pollution or bathing water quality. Progress is less clear in terms of decoupling resource use and economic growth, water stress and air pollution. More work needs to be done to protect our ecosystems and their biodiversity and to generate less waste.

So we need to improve. Because we need to make sure that job, growth and the environment are developed together, not in isolation. This is my goal in 2011 – a goal that is totally in synch with our Europe2020 strategy.

We will have to work together – across institutions and Member States – to turn this message into real, workable policies. It will of course be helped significantly by the "European Semester" the time-window in the first half of each year in which Member States reporting under the Stability and Growth Pact and under the Europe 2020 Strategy are aligned, and policy guidance and recommendations are given to Member States before national budgets are finalised.

I believe that we have a strong EU environmental acquis in place in order to protect the environment. We have to make the existing rules more effective and complied with, but I don't think our first priority should be to come with many new legislative initiatives. What we now need is to enhance the quality of our environment by anchoring environment into the EU's economic governance and policies. That is why I have pushed strongly to make resource efficiency a central element in the Europe 2020 strategy.

As Environment Commissioner, my main priorities are:

  • Resource efficiency

  • Biodiversity

  • Better implementation of the existing EU environmental rules.

In January, the Commission adopted a Communication on resource efficiency, which will set the scene for different initiatives to be adopted in 2011 and 2012.

This will show that resource efficiency is becoming an established policy for the entire Commission. Placing resource efficiency at the heart of the EU's socio-economic agenda will help us truly integrate environmental objectives into other policies. For example, just yesterday the Commission adopted a White Paper on the future of transport in the EU with the title: for a competitive and resource efficient transport system., starting with our economic policy.

If I just think back one year, probably not many had heard of resource efficiency on the EU's agenda. I dared to hope that we could put it on the map, but it was far from certain.

My ambition remains to make resource efficiency an established and operational wide-ranging policy for the entire EU. And I want this to be your ambition too. Why? Because it can transform our economies and put them on the so needed sustainable path so that we promote competitiveness, prosperity and quality of life without sowing the seeds of a future ecological crisis.

We are at the moment working on a Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, which we intend to publish around the summer.

We have to make sure that our policies are good enough – good enough because we cannot underestimate the scale of transformation needed. And because of that we will need to be flexible and sophisticated in our approach.

First we will need to implement the legislation that we have already signed up to. In the area of waste management and recycling alone, this would take us a long way towards improved material resource efficiency, as well as helping the climate and creating jobs.

This will remain a priority for the coming years for the Commission. The implementation of the Waste Framework Directive and the recast of the WEEE Directive are important pieces of legislation, which will help us meet our objectives. More needs to be done on waste prevention and in reducing land filling –the solution lies not only in legislation and enforcement, but in making markets for secondary raw materials work properly and making waste too valuable to waste.

Second, we will need to steer the market towards resource efficiency through a range of market-based instruments. Prices must reflect real economic and environmental costs. Shifting the burden of taxation from labour towards resource use or environmental impacts would push our economies in the right direction. We cannot shy away from addressing how market-based instruments, in particular taxation, can be used more effectively...

Third, we need to scale-up some of the well designed, but under-used existing instruments. We must develop eco-design, certification schemes, eco-labels and Environmental management auditing schemes further so that they can make a difference. Here we will certainly need to work closely with business and with national initiatives. The Sustainable Consumption and Production instruments, which have been delivering good results since the launch of the SCP Action Plan in 2008, need to be further strengthened, for instance by extending the scope of the Ecodesign directive to all manufactured products with significant environmental impact.

Fourth, we will need to develop a better approach to achieving resource efficiency through non-environment policies. Europe 2020 will help there. Good examples here are the White Paper on transport or the greening of public procurement.

Another important milestone I would like to mention in this regard and where I would like to be able to count on your support is the greening of the next EU multiannual financial framework post 2013.

Finally, we need to design policies that help us preserve the key natural assets where market forces will not deliver or not quickly enough. I am thinking of water, air and ecosystems as a whole.

This brings me to my second priority, biodiversity.

I am highly satisfied with the outcomes of the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in October last years in Japan. The successful adoption of the 'Nagoya Package' poses a real challengeto the Commission and to the Member States to now follow up to the commitments made.

We have started to work towards implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing. The Commission recently submitted to the Council a formal proposal for EU signature of the Nagoya Protocol. My services are also working on a detailed roadmap for implementing the Nagoya Protocol in the Union. It things move smoothly legislative proposal should be on the table before COP11 in Delhi in 2012.

We will also adopt the EU biodiversity strategy before the summer break. My objective is to present the Strategy to colleagues at the Environment Council in June. The strategy will identify concrete actions for implementing our Nagoya commitments, for instance on invasive alien species. But to be clear, implementing the strategy will require engagement by both the Union and by the Member States.

The most challenging Nagoya commitment to me is on resource mobilisation. All of us - be it at national or at EU level - need to work hard to be able to significantly step up current levels of biodiversity financing internationally. I am working with my fellow Commissioners to ensure that the future EU budget sufficiently reflects that biodiversity has become a much more important political issue. One of the central arguments I am making is that investments into healthy ecosystems are important not only for conserving nature, but also for supporting the livelihoods of those that depend on healthy ecosystems; particularly the rural poor. I strongly feel that prevention is better than cure. It also seems much preferable to invest in maintaining biodiverse and healthy ecosystems, than to pay for keeping environmental refugees abay.

The third priority I mentioned is implementation of EU environmental laws. Implementing environmental legislation can be problematic. And it would not be speaking out of turn to say that like other Member States, Italy has had its fair share of problems.

Our position is simple. We want to be "strictly helpful". By this I mean understanding the specific situations of Member States and helping where we can to solve their problems. And despite the popular perception, implementation doesn't mean that our objective is to punish or fines. Implementation is about helping Member States implement the legislation they have signed up to.

That is why new legislation must be 'implementation-friendly' enough for all who are going to have to use it. We provide a lot of guidance during the transposition period just for this purpose.

Of course the Commission has a duty to check that legislation is actually implemented. We have worked on a 'cooperative approach' and our pilot system actually solves 50% of the issues before infringement. But for situations where infringement is necessary, we must be "helpfully strict" - we have new powers under Lisbon on non-transposition cases, which allow fines at the first court ruling.

Overall though, we want to be holistic with implementation - using EU co-financing to help MS fulfil their obligations (for example with waste-water treatment infrastructure). And this is something we must consider in the budget debates for the next financial period and in the future reform of Cohesion Policy.

We are also developing ideas for our implementation and a communication will be adopted in Autumn this year to that effect. This will focus on improving the current governance for implementation, including reinforced inspections system and a better knowledge base for implementation.

***

Ladies and Gentlemen

This is a new era for environmental policy. We have to be clear and we have to be systemic in the way that we push its evolution. We need policies that correspond to the complexity of our environment and our society.

And perhaps most importantly of all, we have to make sure that the transformation of the economy towards growth is based on a pattern of resources use that our planet can sustain. It is a tall order, but a necessary one – I hope that I can rely on your support and cooperation.


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