European Commissioner for Environment
Why cohesion and environment policy are natural partners
Fifth Cohesion Forum, Workshop on "Sustainable Growth"
Brussels, 31 January 2011
Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen,
Are cohesion policies important for the environment?
…if you consider that they represent the biggest single source of EU financing for environmental projects…I would say the answer is probably yes.
They are also one of the most important tools for meeting the major challenges we face in Europe today.
So when Johannes Hahn asked me to chair today's workshop on "Sustainable Growth" at the Cohesion Forum, I thought it would be both an honour and a great opportunity to listen to and learn from this high-powered panel of experts – and to hear what you have to say…
I'll get the practical stuff out of the way first – this will be a workshop of two parts:
During the first part, the panellists will present their views and expectations on future Cohesion Policy. Here I am going to have to be a tough referee…I hope they will be able to limit their statements to only 10 minutes. If not, I may have to show a yellow card…or maybe even a red one.
Following that, you will have the chance to ask the panellists questions, or raise issues of interest to the panel as a whole.
Tomorrow morning, the main messages from this discussion will be presented to the Forum plenary. This means that what we talk about today could contribute directly to the debate on the future of the Cohesion Policy.
Before we begin the panel discussion proper, allow me to set out my own views on future Cohesion Policy.
I believe that it should continue to be based on the principle of solidarity and maintain its emphasis on supporting 'lagging' Member States and regions and encouraging their competitiveness. It must also become a leader in encouraging smarter, greener and more inclusive and sustainable growth.
It must also contribute to achieving environmental sustainability 'on the ground'. By that, I mean in the everyday lives and actions of EU citizens, companies and public authorities.
In my view, Cohesion policy and environment policy are natural partners. They are also adding some real value and improving the quality of lives for Europeans… Let me explain, why I believe this to be the case.
First, take the issue of resource efficiency: We all agree that the EU must tackle the challenge of increasing pressure on natural resources head-on. Resource efficiency is a stated aim of Europe2020 and only a week ago President Barroso formally launched the resource efficiency flagship initiative. I don't have time to go into detail now, but I have firmly put myself behind the resource efficiency concept. Increasing resource efficiency is key for securing sustainable growth and jobs in Europe – it is a strategic necessity and an economic opportunity. We want to 'decouple' economic growth from resource use, create major economic opportunities at all levels, improve productivity, drive down costs and boost competitiveness.
For Cohesion, this has important consequences too:
Markets for resource and energy efficient technologies – including green innovation – are showing enormous future potential. Regions which take up the challenge of resource efficiency in the context of Cohesion Policy are likely to create more secure jobs. They are also likely to gain a "first mover advantage" and improve their chances of making a long-term contribution to the social, economic and environmental well-being of the people that depend on their proactivity.
Core EU environmental industries provide nearly 3.5 million jobs and are growing at annual rates of more than 8 percent. This kind of green growth is the kind we need.
More advanced recycling, reduces waste volumes, and decreases the demand for primary raw materials and the amount of energy needed in production processes. Regions which prioritise recycling in the context of Cohesion Policy are likely to face fewer waste management challenges, and use less energy for production. This means lower costs and increased local competitiveness…And more opportunities for job creation.
And cohesion is crucial for implementing the environmental acquis in the regions, too.
This is a particular challenge for the new Member States, where accession has demanded heavy investments in the treatment of waste water and solid waste. It is no secret that the Operational Programmes cannot match these investments.
Here cohesion policy can and must continue to play a role. Clean drinking water, efficient water distribution systems, and the proper treatment of waste water and solid waste have a direct and positive impact on the well-being of citizens as well as on the quality of the local environment. This is not only about meeting environmental standards. It is also about making sure that EU citizens can enjoy the same quality of life throughout Europe!
Improvement to air quality in urban areas poses similar challenges.
In addition, there are other areas where co-financing can make a huge difference. Nature protection and measures to protect biodiversity and ecosystem services are just a few examples.
Cohesion Policy is also a place where environmental concerns can be mainstreamed into other policy areas. Transport and energy are particularly relevant examples. Meeting current and future challenges in the areas of local air quality, noise exposure, and reductions in CO2 emissions often depend on the right investment decisions in transport and energy. For Cohesion Policy this means that it is not enough to simply respect the relevant environmental legislation on nature protection or on emissions: we must also favour and promote more environmentally friendly modes of transport, particularly in urban areas. This is a win for the environment, for quality of life and for the competitiveness and attractiveness of regions that are lagging behind and need the most help.
Cohesion Policy and environmental policy must also pull in the same direction if territorial cohesion is to work.
Both the Baltic Sea and River Danube strategies have an underlying and yet explicit environmental dimension. Some have suggested further strategies – for example for the Adriatic and the Ionian. These macro regional strategies provide a natural and wider geographical structure for economic and environmentally sustainable development.
It is a concept that could also be adopted and developed for our remote, outermost and island areas. In these isolated geographical areas, with their unique characteristics, compliance with the environmental acquis, although an obligation, is more complicated and costs a lot more. We need therefore to see how these areas could be better served, including through Trans-European Networks.
Ladies and Gentlemen
I will stop here. There is, of course, much more I could say about how these challenges can best be addressed in the future Cohesion policy. But now it is time to hear what the panellists think…