Proposal for a directive on soil monitoring and resilience (soil monitoring law)

In “A European Green Deal”

PDF version

On 17 November 2021, the European Commission adopted, as part of the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, a new EU soil strategy, encompassing non-legislative and legislative actions. The strategy, which aims to bring all EU soil ecosystems in good condition by 2050, announced that the Commission would table a proposal for a new soil health law to address transboundary impacts of soil degradation and achieve policy coherence at EU and national level.

In its work programme for 2023, published on 18 October 2022, the Commission confirmed its intention to put forward a legislative initiative on protecting, sustainably managing and restoring EU soils. A call for evidence for an impact assessment was published on 16 February and closed on 16 March 2022. The public consultation, running from 1 August to 24 October 2022, attracted 5800 contributions.

In its resolution of 28 April 2021 on soil protection, the European Parliament had called on the Commission to design an EU-wide common legal framework, with full respect for the subsidiarity principle, for the protection and sustainable use of soil, addressing all major soil threats. It asked for the proposal to be accompanied by an in-depth impact assessment based on scientific data, analysing both the costs of action and non-action in terms of immediate and long-term impacts on the environment, human health, the internal market and general sustainability.

On 5 July 2023, the Commission tabled a proposal for a directive on soil monitoring and resilience ('soil monitoring law'). The long-term objective of the proposed directive is to have all soils across the EU in healthy condition by 2050, as outlined in the soil strategy. To achieve this ambition, the proposal provides a common definition of what constitutes a healthy soil, and lays down measures on monitoring and assessment of soil health, sustainable soil management, and remediation of contaminated sites. Under the proposed directive, Member States would be required to regularly monitor soil health and land take within 'soils districts' to be established throughout their territory. Based on the monitoring data collected, they would have to perform soil health assessments at least every 5 years, enabling them to decide on the regeneration measures needed. The proposal also requests Member States to identify, investigate, assess and remediate contaminated sites. Contaminated sites, and potentially contaminated sites, should be recorded in a national register, publicly accessible online.

In Parliament, the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), responsible for the file, appointed Martin Hojsik (Renew Europe, Slovakia) as rapporteur on 12 September 2023. The Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI), associated under Rule 57 of the Rules of Procedure, delivered its opinion on 15 February 2024 (rapporteur: Maria Noichl, S&D, Germany).

The ENVI committee adopted its legislative report on 11 March 2024. The report would enable soil district authorities to draw up their own soil district plans. To respect the autonomy of the countries willing to implement more comprehensive monitoring systems, Member States would be able to choose among three tiers for soil monitoring design, with different soil descriptors and soil health criteria. Tier 1 includes a minimum set of descriptors that needs to be covered. The report proposes a more nuanced approach for assessing soil health, based on a five-level classification of soil ecological status (high, good, moderate ecological status, degraded and critically degraded soils). Soils would be deemed healthy if they achieve either good or high ecological status. Member States would have 10 years to upgrade the status of critically degraded soils to degraded soils, and six years to improve the classification of degraded soils to moderate ecological status and of soils with moderate ecological status to good ecological status. The report adds flexibility to the proposed sustainable soil management requirements, and asks the Commission to compile a sustainable soil management toolbox, with practical information for soil managers. It supports the setting up of a public register of contaminated and potentially contaminated sites.

The text awaits a vote in plenary on 10 April 2024, with a view to setting Parliament's position at first reading.

The Council has yet to adopt its general approach. Ministers held a policy debate on the proposal at the Environment Council on 18 December 2023. According to Council reports, they welcomed the proposed text and agreed with the importance of having EU-level legislation focused on soil monitoring and resilience. They discussed how the proposed soil monitoring framework could help improve soil health within the foreseen timeframe and the level of ambition in tackling soil contamination.

References:

Further reading:

Author: Vivienne Halleux, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20/03/2024.