EU legislation hampered by lack of transparency

12th March 2012

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  • Mitigation ,
  • EU ,
  • Natural resources



European legislation is failing to improve sustainability because member states are not providing information on environmental issues and how to achieve compliance

In a new communication to the bloc’s parliament and member states, the European Commission (EC) argues that laws designed to protect the environment are not being implemented consistently or effectively by national governments.

Environment commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "EU law is not an invention from Brussels; it is democratically adopted by all member states and the parliament for the benefit of citizens.

“Our environment is protected by some 200 pieces of well established law, but all too often they are not properly applied. This doesn't just harm the environment – it also damages human health, leads to uncertainty for industry, and undermines the single market. In a time of crisis, these are costs we cannot afford.”

At the heart of the problem, according to the EC, is a lack of accurate information with regards environmental issues, such as biodiversity, and countries’ interpretation and enforcement of EU rules.

The communication states that for those subject to the law, it can be difficult to identify how national regulation relates to EU directives and that environmental monitoring efforts across the bloc are “uneven …and the information generated is patchy and often out-of-date”.

To improve the implementation of environmental regulation, the EC suggests that member states provide online portals explaining the EU provisions relevant to businesses and how they are being implemented at a national level.

Meanwhile, environmental information from across the EU on topics such as land-use, air quality, biodiversity and water scarcity, could be collated to provide the public with interactive online maps, similar to the European Environmental Agency’s information on the water quality of Europe’s beaches.

Providing greater information about legislation and an accurate representation of the state of the natural environment will, the commission believes, increase awareness of the issues and help improve the delivery of environmental regulation.

The communication also recommends that member states improve their systems for implementing legislation. It suggests granting wider access to justice and developing more effective inspection and surveillance activities. While indicating that a greater number of potentially environmentally harmful activities could benefit from inspection, it also argues in favour of streamlining and coordinating such inspections and making them risk-based.

The EC’s communication will be fed into the EU’s seventh environment action programme, due to be published later this year.

According a commission report published last September, the failure to implement environmental legislation is effectively costing the EU economy around €50 billion every year in health costs and direct costs to the environment.


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