EU soil protection law blocked by UK, France and Germany


EU Environment ministers were unable to reach a political agreement on a controversial proposal for a soil framework directive yesterday (20 December) due to a small blocking minority led by three of the EU’s largest member states. 

Negotiations between member states on the proposal for a soil framework directive have been “very, very difficult”, according to one EU official close to the discussions.

Germany and Austria have argued that the new law would not respect the principle of subsidiarity and interfere with domestic soil policy. 

The UK is concerned about additional policy obligations as well as a possible restriction on housing developments, and has criticised the proposal on the grounds that it would lead to ‘disproportionate’ cost with a negligible environmental benefit.

France, Finland and Sweden also expressed scepticism about the new law, but opposition from these member states was less rigid, with France seen as a key potential swing vote.

But France ultimately sided with the UK and Germany, who also received backing from Austria and The Netherlands. 

Despite the support of 22 other EU member states and “various attempts” by the Portguese EU Presidency to reach a compromise, a qualified majority could not be reached.

It remains unclear when another attempt to reach agreement on the file will be made.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said he was "very disappointed that, in spite of the enormous efforts of the Portuguese Presidency, the support of many Environment Ministers in today's Council, and the positive vote and large support from the European Parliament, the Council has not been able to reach a political agreement on the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive. This is a missed opportunity for the protection of the environment and the fight against climate change. I look forward to continuing working with the Council to achieve political agreement as soon as possible."

The reaction from European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and BirdLife was one of "utter dismay".

John Hontelez, the EEB's Secretary General said the lack of a deal is "nothing short of a scandal", and Birdlife Europe Director Clairie Papazoglou said that if the next EU presidencies do not move the file forward, "it could mean that scaremongering about bureaucracy and red tape has won out over rational and compelling arguments for taking concerted EU action to address a massive environmental problem".

The EEB has also published its assessment of the environmental performance of the Portuguese EU Presidency, which received good scores on climate change and mercury. But "we do not positively view Portugal's concrete work on pesticides and sustainable development", Hontelez said. 

The Commission's proposed framework directive on soil, part of its September 2006 soil strategy, defines common principles, objectives and actions but shies away from setting specific targets for member states.

In its first reading vote on 13 November, Parliament voted largely in favour of a report endorsed in October by the ENVI committee, backing the notion of public inventories, as well as the requirement that member states draw up soil remediation strategies seven years after the directive enters into force.

But Parliament also voted in favour of adding a list of potentially contaminated sites to the directive, re-inserting an annex that had been previously deleted by the ENVI Committee. 

Further elements of the Parliament's vote include a requirement for member states are to identify, five years after the entry into force of the directive, soil protection 'priority areas' and take appropriate measures to protect against erosion, biodiversity loss and other threats. 


Life Terra

Funded by the LIFE Programme of the EU

The content of this publication represents the views of the author only and is his/her sole responsibility. The Agency does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

Subscribe to our newsletters