|European Parliament Fact Sheets|
4.9.1. Environment policy: general principles
European environmental protection law dates back to a conference of Heads of State or Government in October 1972 that decided a common environmental policy was essential. At the time of writing (February 2000), 708 items of Community legislation relating to environmental protection are in force: 266 directives, 124 regulations and 318 decisions. A number of action programmes provide the framework for this legislation. The Council adopted the fifth, the "Community programme of policy and action in relation to the environment and sustainable development", on 15 and 16 December 1992. Since reform of the Rome Treaties in the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam, the legal basis for Community environment policy has been Articles 174 to 176 (130r to 130t) of the EC Treaty.
The Treaty of Amsterdam has heightened the profile of European Union environment policy. Changes to the preamble and Article 2 (B) of the EU Treaty strengthen the principle of sustainable development, so that it is now one of the EU's main objectives. Article 6 (3c) of the EC Treaty explicitly mentions the need to integrate protection of the environment in all Community sectoral policies. This new clause has widespread application; by moving it from the article on the environment to an important position at the beginning of the treaty, the EU's leaders have underlined their commitment to the objective of sustainable development. And in the final act the Commission undertakes to draw up impact assessment studies when it puts forward proposals that are likely to have serious repercussions for the environment.
Under Article 174 (130r( (2) of the EC Treaty, Community environment policy rests on the principles of precaution, prevention, rectifying pollution at source and ‘the polluter pays'. Article 95 (100a) (3) of the EC Treaty expressly states that ‘health, safety, environmental protection' must take as a base ‘a high level of protection, taking account in particular of any new development based on scientific facts. Within their respective powers the European Parliament and the Council will also seek to achieve this objective'. The Union thus pursues an active policy to protect the soil, water, climate, air, flora and fauna. But in accordance with the subsidiarity principle (* 1.2.2.) the Union will tackle environmental problems only when it can deal with them more effectively than national or regional government.
1. Environmental impact assessment
The directive on environmental impact assessments (85/337) is an essential instrument of Community policy. It lays down a systematic assessment procedure and requires government to inform the general public of its plans.
In 1997 Directive 97/11 amended its provisions to include the basic principles of the Espoo Convention, which provides for cross-border public information on construction projects such as power stations or hazardous waste incineration plants, or plans to deforest large areas of land. The directive took effect on 3 April 1997; the deadline for transposing it into national law was 14 March 1999. After five years' experience with it the Commission will report to Parliament and the Council.2. European Environment Agency
On 7 May 1990 the Council adopted a regulation establishing the European Environment Agency and the European environment information and observation network (Regulation 1210/90). It defines the Agency as a central Community body,
On 13 June 1997 the Commission put forward a proposal to modify the Agency in the light of the experience, with the aim of strengthening its role in storing and providing information on the state of the environment.
3. Eco-label for environmentally friendly products
On 23 March 1992 the Council adopted a Regulation No 880/92 on a Community eco-label award scheme).
Under the regulation manufacturers or importers of a product may apply for an eco-label to the competent body in the Member State in which they manufacture or first market the product or import it from a third country. This body decides whether to award a label after assessing the product in accordance with the principles in the regulation and the specific criteria for individual product groups. The Commission defines the product groups and specific criteria in close cooperation with a special committee of Member State representatives. Before taking a decision it consults representatives of the main interest groups from industry, trade, consumer and environmental organisations. It publishes the product groups and criteria, a list of products awarded the eco-label and the names and addresses of the competent national bodies in the Official Journal.
The Commission soon agreed on the award criteria for various product groups. But a survey revealed that the eco-label had not produced the expected results. Few products had received the award, mainly because the award criteria were evidently not selective enough, and this meant that there was little incentive for companies to market new products and apply for the label.
So in 1996 the Commission proposed amending Regulation 880/92. To make the award procedure clearer to consumers it would introduce several stages, better coordinated with the national schemes; it would create a European Eco-label Organisation to devise new award criteria; and it would set a ceiling on the annual fee for the label, with lower rates for small businesses from developing countries.4. Eco-audits
Regulation 1836/93, on the voluntary participation of industrial companies in a Community eco-audit system, set up a new scheme to improve industrial environmental protection by introducing a form of environmental management. Companies which, in addition to complying with current law, make a commitment to continuously improving their environmental protection measures can draw attention to their advanced level of environmental protection by using a standard EU mark. The regulation lays down the requirements for environmental management systems and environmental audits and stipulates that an independent environmental auditor must validate the company's environmental statement. The aim is to "internalise" environmental protection by integrating it into a company's activities and show that environmentally aware production ultimately leads to lower costs.
5. Integrated pollution prevention and control
Under Directive 96/61 for the prevention and integrated reduction of pollution, which took effect in October 1996, the Member States have to set up a plant authorisation procedure applying to all environmental mediums. The directive thus moves away from an approach confined to one specific medium — air, water, soil, noise, waste and so on — to take account of every way in which an industrial plant affects the environment.
6. Tax on carbon dioxide emissions and energy
This 1995 Commission proposal refers to a commitment given at the Essen European Council, to produce guidelines that would enable Member States to apply such a tax on the basis of common criteria if they so wished. The tax is intended to promote efficient energy use and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
7. LIFE II
Regulation 1973/92 established a financial instrument for the environment (LIFE) to contribute to the implementation and development of Community environment policy and on environmental legislation. LIFE was implemented in phases (the second phase ended 31 December 1999). A common position (EC 42/1999) for the third phase of UFE (ending 31 December 2004) was adopted by the Council on 22 October 1999.
ROLE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Parliament has been behind a large amount of legislation, such as environmental impact assessments, free access to information and the eco-label for environmentally friendly products. The Treaty of Amsterdam strengthened its role by extending the codecision procedure to all measures under Article 175 except those dealing with taxation or the management of water resources.
1. Own-initiative resolutions
Resolutions have included the following subjects:
2. The fifth action programme
In a November 1992 resolution on the fifth action programme Parliament set out its own views on the future of European environment policy. While generally welcoming the proposed guidelines, it called for consistent application of the ‘polluter-pays' principle so as to prevent environmental dumping, and for procedures and mechanisms to ensure that environmental policy forms part of the other Community policies. In a further resolution on the fifth action programme in April 1993, Parliament called on the Commission to produce a White Paper on this aspect at regular intervals. The Commission has since published a 1995 report on implementing the Community programme of policy and action in relation to the environment and sustainable development. As a result of the conciliation procedure in 1996 Parliament and the Council agreed that five other needs deserved particular attention: to strengthen the foundations of environmental policy, encourage sustainable production and consumption techniques, consolidate the concept of sharing responsibilities, encourage local and regional measures and further develop certain environmental issues.
3. Application of Community law
A Parliament resolution on transposing Community legislation into national law points out that there have been serious infringements of Community environmental law in the past. It lists six reasons:
4. Other action
- On 13 November 1996 Parliament called in a vote at second reading on the amendment of Directive 85/337 for better public consultation on the location of projects, and for nuclear power station construction plans to be subject to environmental impact assessments.
- On 9 February 1999 Parliament took a decision at second reading on the European Environment Agency, amending various points in the Council's common position. These included making the Agency responsible for advising the Member States on developing, establishing and extending their arrangements for monitoring environmental action.