Soil-protection strategy leaves choices to member states

On 22 September, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas presented a Soil Framework Directive that leaves plenty of flexibility and time for member states to counter the increasing degradation of Europe’s soils.

After having consulted with all stakeholders, on 22 September 2006 the Commission presented its Soil Strategy, the last of the seven thematic strategies foreseen in the 6th Environment Action Programme. The strategy consists of:

  • A communication establishing a ten-year work programme; 
  • a draft framework directive, and; 
  • an impact assessment with an analysis of the economic, social and environmental impacts of the proposed measures.

The proposed framework directive defines common principles, objectives and actions but shies away from setting targets for the member states. It leaves the real choices up to the national governments refering to the need for flexibility and subsidiarity.

Member states will have to identify areas at risk from soil erosion and set up an inventory of contaminated sites, prepare a soil-status report and establish a national strategy for remediation of contaminated sites.

The Commission estimates the current costs of soil degradation to be €7-38 billion, but has been unable to assess the costs of implementation of the proposed legislative measures. 

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomed the draft Soil Framework Directive, but stated that the proposal is too weak to power the changes needed to reverse the continuing degradation of Europe's soils. It regretted that the Commission has not set "enforceable targets" and "common quality standards".

Soil is a key natural resource, performing many important functions for society such as producing food or protecting biodiversity. It is also essential for water protection and carbon storage.

The increasing degradation of European soils has put its protection on the EU's agenda. Currently, there is varied EU legislation in place, but no comprehensive or integrated policy. Only nine member states have specific legislation on soil protection in place and their legislation only answers very specific threats such as desertification or contamination.

EU leaders  therefore committed themselves in the 6th Environmental Action Programme to produce a European Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection.

In 2002, the Commission presented a Communication "Towards a Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection" which described the challenges and potential actions. 

  • The adoption of the framework directive by Parliament and Council could take up to two years. Then member states will have to transpose it into their national laws;
  • five years later, the member states will have to identify the risk areas and the inventory of contaminated sites, and;
  • seven years after the transposition, they need to adopt targets and a national remediation strategy.

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