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Procedure : 2005/2051(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0383/2005

Texts tabled :

A6-0383/2005

Debates :

PV 17/01/2006 - 18
CRE 17/01/2006 - 18

Votes :

PV 18/01/2006 - 4.12
CRE 18/01/2006 - 4.12
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2006)0020

Debates
Tuesday, 17 January 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

18. Sustainable development strategy
PV
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  President.   The next item is the report (A6-0383/2005) by Mrs Ferreira, on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, on the environmental aspects of sustainable development (2005/2051(INI)).

 
  
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  Anne Ferreira (PSE), rapporteur. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should first like to thank all those who helped improve my report, and I should like to say straightaway that I shall be supporting the amendments tabled by the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance.

It is worth remembering that if all the inhabitants of Earth were to adopt the West’s lifestyle we would need several planets to meet their needs, and that the West, and primarily the EU, is duty-bound to carry out a root-and-branch rethink of its modes of production and consumption. This assessment is undisputed in the Chamber, cutting across traditional political boundaries, and has led the Commission to incorporate sustainable development into the Union’s priorities. The time has come for us to take stock of our actions in this area, and the results so far have been mixed. Progress has been made, but there have been setbacks or, at least, some shortcomings.

Under pressure from public concern about the continued degradation of our environment, the EU has worked hard to warn the international community about ecology issues. Assessment of the situation has led to a large amount of rhetoric, but this has not always been followed up by action – far from it. The time has come for action to be taken, because there is an urgent need for a proactive policy aimed at reversing climate change, especially in light of the magnitude of recent natural disasters. I welcome the conclusions of the Montreal conference and the positive role played by EU representatives should not go unmentioned.

Whilst the Union has adopted important legislation intended to reduce industrial waste and to make the cars we use more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, the significant increase in road traffic has meant that its efforts have come to nothing. This is a clear illustration of one of the paradoxes facing the EU: on the one hand, the free movement of goods and, on the other, the detrimental impact of the free movement of goods on the EU’s environmental objectives. There are two approaches to addressing this problem: firstly, to encourage the use of more environmentally-friendly means of transport, with the Union providing financial support for large structural projects, and secondly, to incorporate the environmental cost of transport into the price of goods or to tax transport in relation to its environmental impact.

There is an urgent need for proactive policy on water. In spite of the laws that have been adopted and the measures that have been taken, the state of water remains unsatisfactory. Do we need to point out once again that chemical pollution levels are still too high? Do we not have a duty to hold certain farming methods responsible, as they are such a major consumer of water and various fertilisers? The forthcoming reform of the CAP should take this into account and press ahead with the reform of grants and environmental cross-compliance.

There is an urgent need for a proactive policy to maintain biodiversity. The list does not stop there. There is an urgent need for measures to be taken – such as the reports already adopted, the one by Mrs Ries and the one expected to be adopted on REACH – to offset the negative impact of the environment on health. There is an urgent need to take action on development aid, because inequality on Earth generates more and more conflict and the poorest countries are the first victims of natural disasters. Sustainable development provides part of the answer, because it represents a model of production and consumption that could and should be extended to all countries.

The Union needs to be proactive and propose effective measures if it is to be up to the task of reversing the most worrying trends and of preventing irreversible situations from arising. To this end, it is essential that each sector be set quantified objectives and be subject to regular, strictly timetabled, evaluation.

On a broader level, the political foundations of the EU must be further strengthened. This entails greater solidarity and more effective coordination; to encourage widespread dumping is incompatible with the requirements of sustainable development. It also entails a breakdown of the implementation of sustainable development at all international, national and local levels. Every legislative proposal would benefit from being viewed from the perspective of sustainable development. We have much to do in this area. Similarly, if we want to move sustainable development forward, we should no longer accept that the legal basis for draft laws on the environment or health should be the sacred cow of the free movement of goods.

The Commission has a responsibility, but protecting the environment is not sufficiently high on its agenda. While it may have published five of the seven thematic strategies, these do not mask the weakness of the proposed review of the sustainable development strategy of the end of 2005. I must say I am concerned about the plans presented to us by the Commission. For example, when one reads in the thematic strategy on waste that there could be a return to national approaches whereby the Member States themselves would set their modes of managing waste, that, to my mind, would be a retrograde step.

When the Commission announces that it wants to make fewer laws by refusing to propose laws that would indeed be burdensome for the Member States or for business in the short term, but that are necessary for the future, it is condemning the Union to political losses. It is all the more incomprehensible for the citizens that the Commission persists with certain legislative proposals that have either already been rejected by Parliament, such as the directives on port services, or been subject to fierce objections from the citizens, such as the directive on services in the internal market.

I should like to conclude on a positive note. As much bad news for the Union as for our idea of development …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Μember of the Commission. (EL) I should like to start by assuring you in connection with the thematic strategy on waste that, whenever we need to legislate in order to protect the environment and the health of European citizens, we shall legislate.

Consequently, you need have no concerns on that account and the thematic strategy on waste truly is a step forward. We shall debate this when the time comes.

I should like now, on behalf of the Commission, to welcome the contribution by the European Parliament to the review of the European Union sustainable development strategy. The exceptional Ferreira report contains many valuable proposals for the review, putting particular emphasis on the environmental aspects of sustainable development. Many of the proposals are reflected in the Commission communication.

Following the approval of the Commission communication on the sustainable development strategy, the Commission wishes to cooperate more closely with Parliament and the Council and, on the basis of this communication, to get a European sustainable development strategy approved in June. The Ferreira report will be very useful in the consultations leading up to the European Council in June.

Allow me to analyse further the Commission communication which we approved on 13 December and to add certain comments on the Ferreira report. The Commission communication is the third and final stage in a detailed review procedure which has lasted over 18 months and in which many interested agencies have participated from the whole of Europe.

It is true that a fair amount of time was needed for the review but careful discussions were needed on such an important, broad-ranging strategy.

The Commission presented three communications on the strategy in 2005: the guidelines in February, the draft statement of principles on sustainable development which the Council approved in June and the revised strategy with objectives and a more effective monitoring procedure on 13 December 2005.

The Ferreira report focuses mainly on the environmental aspects of sustainable development. These aspects are indeed very important, given that non-sustainable environmental trends constitute some of the main threats in relation to our present and future prosperity.

Nonetheless, it should be emphasised that the sustainable development strategy refers to all three aspects of sustainable development, namely the social, economic and environmental problems.

In an effort to suppress all non-sustainable trends, it also aims to maximum possible synergisms between these three dimensions. The broad range of challenges covered includes climate change and clean energy, natural resources, transport, public health, social exclusion, demographics and immigration and global poverty.

Sustainable development addresses issues which truly relate to citizens. They want prosperity but they also want a clean environment, good health, social protection and justice. The new strategy proposes a long-term vision for a sustainable Europe which goes well beyond 2010.

Sustainable development is the primary objective of the Union. Both the Lisbon Strategy and the sustainable development strategy are predicated on implementing this objective in a fast-changing world.

The Lisbon Strategy and the sustainable development strategy reinforce each other. The new strategy addresses some of the weaknesses in the previous strategy, such as unclear priorities and the lack of a clear monitoring mechanism and it confirms the main challenges, clarifies the objectives, responds to the existing, often fairly questionable objectives within the framework of the corresponding policies and defines a new and stricter monitoring mechanism.

It pays particular attention to action and effective application in all policy sectors and the participation of all the interested agencies in the relevant procedure.

We wish to go beyond words and to identify priorities for the next five years. The Commission wishes to cooperate with Parliament and the Council over the coming months, under the aegis of the Austrian Presidency, so that a common strategy can be agreed which will be broadly supported by all the institutions of the European Union and the Member States.

A strategy agreed at European level is needed if we want to galvanise European society into making important changes and to put the European Union on a more sustainable course.

 
  
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  Sepp Kusstatscher (Verts/ALE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. – (DE) Mr President, this report by Mrs Ferreira is a very extensive, healthy, sound and also critical policy paper on the key fields of environmental and social policy, and I am obliged to her for it.

Yet the more we in this House discuss this issue, all the stronger is my impression that, while we espouse quite wonderful principles at heart, the unfortunate fact is that the reality of practical implementation does not look so rosy. Most of us here probably agree, at heart, with the Commission’s proposal – that new market instruments are necessary, for example ecotaxes and the internalisation of all costs. Yet if we think back to the last sitting before Christmas, we recall that the majority in this House decided the opposite, under pressure from the Council and the transport lobby – here I am referring to the Eurovignette Directive – thus precluding any chance of recovering external costs, specifically costs to the environment and health.

I am glad that the tone is reversed here. The many fine principles of environmental and social policy must also find expression in tangible measures. The Commission must set medium- and short-term objectives. Monitoring and evaluation activities are also necessary, as indicated in the conclusions in paragraph 64 of this motion for a resolution. A real change in our modes of production and consumption is needed: inaction on this will come at a high price and have serious consequences, especially for the growing number of poor people in our society. The EU has an ethical obligation to remain the leading actor on global sustainability. We politicians must not let ourselves be governed by the momentum of capital.

 
  
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  Bogusław Sonik, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group (PL) Mr President, the European Union is making every effort to ensure that environmental concerns are incorporated into all of its policies. The rate of natural resource consumption in Europe currently exceeds our biological capacity by more than a factor of two. What this means is that our continent is appropriating a disproportionate share of the world’s natural resources, whether terrestrial or marine.

Let me refer Members to the communication adopted by the European Commission on 15 October 1998, which committed the EU to improving the integration of its environmental and energy policies, and which contained concrete measures to this end. Eight years have passed, and yet none of the goals set out in this document have been achieved. Before our very eyes, a decision has been taken by politicians to construct the largest energy network of its kind, incorporating a double gas pipeline and a system of electric cables, along the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Its construction poses a threat to environmental safety, and will have a disastrous impact on the marine environment in the land-locked basin of the Baltic Sea.

There are a number of key questions that we must ask ourselves. How much longer will we go on drafting legislation that is divorced from reality? How much longer will our legislative acts and opinions continue to be nothing but empty slogans and platitudes that are not followed up by practical measures? Instead of focusing our attention on solving the most pressing problems at hand, proposals have been put forward for an alternative project, namely the introduction of an environmental tax. I am opposed to this approach.

Environmental problems will not be solved by creating tax systems. They will instead be aggravated, since an increased tax burden will have a direct and negative impact on investment in costly new technologies. There will also be additional costs for employers that may lead to redundancies.

 
  
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  Karin Scheele, on behalf of the PSE Group.(DE) Mr President, I should like to congratulate the rapporteur on her work, as it shows clearly how many different issues we are actually talking about when we use the expression ‘sustainable development strategy’. Sustainable development concerns all Union policies, including, in particular, cooperation with the rest of the world.

The Commission communication makes good reading, with many well-meant, kind words, but I am disappointed that the chapter entitled ‘Setting objectives, targets and milestones’ has turned out very short and also very superficial. One has the impression that the authors are well acquainted with the problems and have analysed them well but that, as soon as it comes to combating them, they fail to penetrate beneath the surface. I hope that the strategy announced under the Austrian Presidency is more ambitious and gives more specific answers on the subject.

We must not confine ourselves to this single strategy, however. How seriously we take the concerns of sustainable development will also become clear from the development of Union finances in future. If environmental and species protection are important Community objectives, that must also be reflected in the budget. We must do our utmost to ensure that instruments, such as LIFE, that work well and are so important for the environment in Europe are allocated sufficient funds. The Commission communication lists a number of unsustainable trends, predominantly climate change. The Commission is therefore called upon to take those measures that represent important instruments for combating climate change. The Eco-design Directive adopted last year provides it with ample opportunities for this. I hope that the Commission’s first implementing measures to this directive will soon be in place, namely for those products with high potential for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases at low cost.

 
  
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  Margrete Auken, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (DA) Mr President, firstly, I should like to thank Mrs Ferreira for a splendid report, which unfortunately received a couple of nasty dents in the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. The report contains some fine objectives. I shall not repeat them in this Chamber, but they are all important. Whenever something is really about to happen, the EU’s good intentions often all but evaporate. Unfortunately, there is reason for fearing that that will also happen where this matter is concerned, and I was not in any degree reassured to hear the Commissioner’s contribution, which contained very few practical elements.

The Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance has put forward three amendments: one calling for more ambitious targets in terms of reducing greenhouse gases, another calling for an end to dependence on nuclear energy and a practical one concerning the problems with waste that we have due to an inconsistent approach to drinks packaging. Each year, Denmark alone has 400 to 600 million German beer and soft drink cans floating about the countryside or on their way through the waste incineration system because the Germans allow the Danes to avoid paying deposits on beer cans bought in Germany. With a common European deposit system, the Danish countryside and environment would fare much better, as would the cows that at present suffer torture when they chew on some of the many German beer cans lying around the countryside.

 
  
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  Andreas Schwab (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, I am much obliged to you for giving me the floor at so late an hour, on what is indeed a very important and interesting report. I should like to start by agreeing with Mrs Scheele: it is true that all the policies dealt with by the Union are, and must be, subject to the principles of sustainability. The financial situation undoubtedly forms part of this, too, and so not only should we be deliberating where we could be spending still more money, but we must also ask ourselves how we can spare the young generation excessive debt within our financial programming, whilst setting – possibly different – priorities; because debts left behind by Member States for the young generation surely cannot be considered sustainable either.

I should like to examine one point that seems to me to be very important in connection with this directive. Firstly, I believe that strengthening ownership by improving cooperation with the actors in this field is an important tool for actually reinforcing the understanding at grass-roots level that sustainability is not a hollow principle that we only uphold when we get up on our soapboxes – to quote my fellow Members here – but that it affects each one of us quite specifically.

I should now like to discuss a specific point, namely the financing of Natura 2000 sites. As we are of course aware, we in Western Europe, in particular, have a very high level of prosperity, and this is not god-given. If farmers suddenly see large sections of their land marked out as Natura 2000 sites with stock protection in force, it will be very difficult to convince them that sustainability is something tangible. We have to show these farmers that sustainability has benefits for them, too, by paying them compensation or offering them other ways of earning a living.

For this reason, we must stipulate in this directive that an effective financing system is necessary for the Natura 2000 network. I therefore support this directive.

 
  
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  Riitta Myller (PSE). – (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, my thanks go in particular to Anne Ferreira, and it is an agreeable opportunity to be here speaking on this subject.

Sustainable development is a phrase that should apply to all EU policy and decision-making. Sustainable development cannot be separated from industrial, competition or economic policy, and even less so from energy, traffic or agricultural policies. For this reason, it was a slight disappointment that this sustainable development strategy was not reviewed at the same time as the EU’s strategy on competitiveness.

EU competitiveness, of course, relies on increased growth being environmentally friendly both in production and consumption. Consumption can be influenced by products and services at the right price. The cost to the environment must be priced in. This will provide an incentive for environmentally better production.

To achieve real results, reliable indicators need to be found for policy on sustainable development. The rapporteur, among others, is of the same opinion. Such indicators can only be obtained by establishing sufficiently ambitious quantitative and qualitative targets. Quantitative objectives, if they are set correctly, tell us where the successes have been and what needs improving for us to achieve a state of the environment which no longer causes harm to human health anymore than to nature’s ability to withstand pollution.

If we set sufficiently high targets, they will also encourage the development, for example, of new environmental technologies, which in turn will boost European growth, and in this way we will attain real sustainable development.

 
  
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  President.   The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday at 12 noon.

 
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