Commission urges solution to soil degradation

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Officials from various environmental departments and organisations are calling for stalled environmental legislation on the proposed Soil Directive to be put into law by March 2009.

The proposed directive was rejected by a blocking minority – including France – in the Council in a vote in December 2007 (EURACTIV 20/12/07). 

But speaking at a 22 July seminar hosted by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), EEB Secretary General John Hontelez expressed hope triggered by the fact that the French Presidency included the Soil Directive in its agenda. He anticipated that an agreement could be reached in the Council by the end of the year (EURACTIV 16/07/08). Director of EU Affairs in the Czech Environment Ministry Šafránkova reassured participants that if France failed to push it through, the subsequent Czech Presidency would look to finalise negotiations early in 2009. 

“France has a big responsibility,” said Hontelez, “because it is now in the presidency and was also in the blocking minority last year”. This notion was echoed by Ladislav Miko from the Commission’s Environment Directorate General: “Despite all the figures and research we have still not agreed on the directive which is quite worrying.” 

Environmental risks 

Soil is a non-renewable resource, and once lost, cannot be retrieved, agreed all the participants. “Soil degradation is an EU problem and needs an EU response,” said Miko. He produced some telling figures, showing that UK soil has been losing 0.6% of its organic matter annually for the past 25 years. This is equal to losing 13 megatonnes of carbon per year, the equvialent of five million cars, he said. Considering the Kyoto target of achieving a 27 megatonne carbon reduction by 2010, the importance of soil is obvious, he said. 

Sealing – an area of soil surface covered by an impermeable material such as concrete – was highlighted as a particularly troublesome issue, as 9% of European land is currently covered by impermeable material, thus increasing the chance of flooding as was seen in the UK last summer. 

Red tape 

Farmers take issue with the proposed directive because of perceived bureaucracy, increased costs and existing national legislation, but the Commission and agricultural NGOs believe the directive simply needs to be explained more clearly. 

“The Commission doesn’t want a directive for the sake of having a directive,” said Miko, adding: “Flexibility can only go so far.” He said member states’ concerns about adding further legislation to existing national soil legislation miss the point because “we have to look at this in a more holistic way”. “We need an EU-wide policy,” he stated. 

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