In a victory for conservationists, negotiators representing the EU’s three institutions have backed the 7th Environment Action Programme that includes a call to consider legislation governing soil quality throughout Europe.
The parties signed off late Wednesday (19 June) on a deal for the post-2013 EAP, a basket of environmental initiatives, including pledges to improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and protect water resources and biodiversity.
The deal between the European Commission, Parliament and Irish presidency of the EU Council also calls for protecting soil quality in the 27 EU states plus Croatia, which joins the bloc on 1 July. Though it falls short of a binding legislative commitment, the EAP opens the door to a long-sought Soil Quality Directive.
The European Environmental Bureau, which represents 140 conservation groups, welcomed the acknowledgement that the “effective protection of soil will require an EU legal framework.”
“This new plan gives a clear and straight answer to those who have been calling for less regulation as a way to boost growth: the answer to today’s crisis is more environmental protection that will safeguard our natural resource base, protect people’s health and drive the innovations Europe needs most,” said Pieter de Pous, EEB’s policy director.
The EAP offers a framework for action rather than legal obligations and still faces a final vote in the Parliament.
Still, German MEP Matthias Groote (Socialists and Democrats) said it “represents a roadmap for our future environment policies, whether it is to conserve the natural capital of our continent, promote an efficient economy that respects our resources or to protect against environmental risks."
“We also need to better integrate environment issues into other EU policies, from energy to agriculture,” said Groote, who chairs the Parliament’s environment committee.
The sixth Environmental Action Programme (6th EAP), adopted in 2001, has given rise to some of the EU's most controversial pieces of legislation, including the REACH regulation on curbing toxic chemicals, tough rules on pesticides and air pollution, as well as the Emissions Trading System (ETS), which for the first time put a price on carbon dioxide pollution from big industries.
Poto?nik seeks long-term deal on soil
Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik introduced the EU’s seventh EAP last year, saying he hoped it would trigger action to protect soil quality. At the time, he said he planned to introduce a formal communication on land as a resource in 2014.
The communication “will aim at raising awareness, on the one hand, on the intrinsic importance of land within the EU and globally, and on the other hand, on the need for the EU to have a coherent and sustainable approach to land use and to ensure that policy formulation is targeted towards that goal,” Poto?nik told EURACTIV by e-mail on 6 December 2012, a week after proposing the 7th EAP.
Leading concerns in Europe, and globally, are erosion, declining soil quality due to intensive farming, and urban sprawl that is destroying productive farmland.
The Commission is bruised by past experience in trying introducing a soil protection law. The soil directive has languished since it was first introduced in 2006. Germany and Britain stymied the proposed legislation, claiming it was not the EU’s prerogative to dictate policies on land use.
Though a highly technical topic, soil health is taking centre stage in discussions about food security. The still-evolving proposal for reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy for 2014-2020 include provisions to link part of the direct payments to farmers to measures aimed at restoring land productivity.