The EU's 27 environment ministers have set out the key elements of the bloc's environment policy for decades to come, calling for "an ambitious and compelling 2050 vision for a green Europe" that decouples economic growth from environmental degradation.

However, green activists will be disappointed by the other part of the ministerial conclusions, which argue for better implementing existing environmental laws before creating new ones.

The conclusions will add to pressure for the European Commission to produce a follow up to its 6th Environmental Action Programme (EAP), which expires in July.

The sixth EAP, a decade-old document, “has been compromised by a lack of implementation ... in the areas of air pollution control, water and wastewater treatment, waste and nature conservation,” the European Parliament said in a resolution adopted last April, urging the Commission to come up with a successor programme.

The Commission has long been reluctant to refer to a 7th EAP, arguing that environmental concerns were already addressed by its 'Europe 2020' strategy for growth.

But the environment ministers "did not share this view," according to a statement, which adds that the EU Executive has confirmed its intention to "present a proposal for a 7th EAP before the end of this year."

In their conclusions, the ministers said the new EAP should focus first on "strengthening and better implementation of the existing environment policy and legislation" as the mainstay of the EU's green vision. The objective, they argue, is to facilitate the "transition to a green economy."

The 7th EAP should build on the "vision" set out in various policy documents such as the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, the EU biodiversity strategy and the 2050 low-carbon roadmap, the ministers said.

The EU, they added, should strive towards "an absolute decoupling of economic growth" from environmental degradation, "with greenhouse gas emissions in line with the objective of staying below 2°C increase in global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels."

The minister's conclusions will feed into the discussion at the 20-22 June meetings at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio.