Report: environmental policy has been “politically downgraded”

A report written by the Institute for European Environmental Policy paints a critical picture of the implementation of the EU’s 6th environment action programme. Most of the objectives of the 10-year strategy will not be fulfilled before 2012, says the report.

The report shows a mixed picture as regards the four main priorities of the 6th EAP:

  • climate change:  good progress has been made (Kyoto agreement) but “achievement of internal policy objectives with respect to the main source sectors of emissions has been uneven”. The biggest concern is the transport sector;
  • nature and biodiversity:  “progress to date insufficient”; good progress as regards protection of habitats and species, but protection of marine environment disappointing;
  • environment and health:  REACH (chemicals) has progressed but “falls short of ambitious objectives laid down in the 6th EAP”; water quality has seen progress except for priority hazardous substances; air quality and urban environmental quality: insufficient;
  • natural resources and waste:  the two thematic strategies have “watered down” the 6th EAP objectives.

Overall, the report concludes that the “state of implementation of the Programme at mid-term does not indicate that most of these objectives are likely to be effectively fulfilled before 2012”. Under the influence of the EU’s Lisbon agenda for growth and jobs, the “evolution of the policy debate … tends to undermine objectives and principles that were agreed upon only four years ago”.

The authors of the study see “ample evidence of the political downgrading of law from its traditional position as the prime form of Community action for the protection of the environment”. “EU environmental policy seems to be retreating increasingly into the realm of soft instruments inspired by the open method of coordination, ” says the report.

In a reaction, a DG environment spokesperson told EURACTIV that the commission welcomed the IEEP study but she did not want to comment on the critical assessment the institute made. "The 
 IEEP  study is a useful 
 and timely contribution to the review process  which will now take stock, 4 years into a 10-year Environment Action programme, of progress so far and the outlook for the rest of the period to 2012", the spokesperson said. The Commission is collecting views from a wide range of stakeholders to prepare its mid-term review.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) called the 6th EAP's implementation to date "unambitious". John Hontelez, EEB's Secretary General, said: "IEEP's report shows that, of the Programme's 41 major objectives, only six have so far been met, and 12 have shown no progress at all. We're also very concerned about the emergence of a new type of legislation, Framework Directives. These build on reporting and process requirements, including the delegation of regulatory decision-making to comitology and co-regulation, instead of on common targets and deadlines. The report also raises a big question mark about the Commission's ability to enforce environmental objectives".

The EU's sixth environmental action programme (6th EAP) was adopted in 2002. It defines main priorities and future actions in the field of environmental policy for the years 2002-2012. The programme is up for mid-term review in 2007. It comprises seven broad Thematic Strategies, five of which (air pollution, marine, waste, resources, urban) have already been adopted in 2005 and 2006. Two strategies are outstanding: one on soil protection and one on the sustainable use of pesticides.

The report "Drowning in process. The implementation of the EU's 6th Environmental Action Programme" was written by the independent Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). The aim of the study was to prepare the mid-term review of the 6th EAP and assess its implementation up until April 2006.

  • The Commission is expected to present its ideas on the mid-term review of the 6th EAP by the end of 2006;
  • The next Thematic Strategy to be adopted, will be on soil protection. It is on the Commission's agenda for 24 May 2006.
  • EURACTIV welcomes reactions and comments from all stakeholders as regards the mid-term assessment of the 6th environmental action programme. Contributions can be sent to environment@euractiv.com .

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