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18th Jan 2020

EU to scrutinise environmental action

  • Oostvaardersplassen, a Natura 2000 in the Netherlands. According to EEB, Natura 2000 sites above all need more manpower and resources to comply with the law. (Photo: Peter Galvin)

The failure of EU states to comply with European environment law comes at the cost of 50 billion euros a year, according to a new report.

The European Commission - the guardian of EU treaties, which has to ensure that member states follow EU law - hopes to upgrade implementation with a new reporting tool.

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Under the European Implementation Review (EIR) that was launched on Friday (27 May), the commission will evaluate implementation of the EU environmental acquis and highlight weaknesses and obstacles that prevent rules from working efficiently. The EU executive will also present country-specific recommendations.

”We want to help member states to apply regulation in more efficient way,” a commission spokesman told EUobserver.

He said the system was ”a bit like the economic semester”, the mechanism that monitors and coordinates member states' economic and fiscal policies.

”We will anticipate problems, find solutions, help member states apply EU regulation,” he said.

The review will build on close relations with the Committee of Regions (CoR), an assembly that represents local authorities and cities in Europe.

”The EU has some of the best environmental laws in the world, they are very complete,” Andres Jaadla, a liberal CoR member, told EUobserver.

The problem lies in the execution, he added.

”Local, national authorities are working a bit like railway tracks - they run but never connect,” Jaadla said.

”They collect data but don’t share it with each other.”

He welcomed the initiative and believed it would strengthen coordination.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), an environmental watchdog, also welcomed the proposal but said the real problem to implementing environmental rules lied in a lack of resources.

“This is a useful first step but needs to be followed up with decisive and effective enforcement actions, supported by sufficient resources,” said Pieter de Pous, EEB policy director.

Sometimes laws aren’t implemented because of insufficient resources. The EEB said that the EU nature protection areas - the Natura 2000 sites - first and foremost need more staff to be kept in shape.

Lawsuit as last option

The commission’s proposal comes amid a trend of non-governmental organisations to rely on legal action to ensure the observance of laws.

Those NGOs told EUobserver they couldn't rely on the morality of states to fulfil their obligations.

But the commission spokesman said legal recourse should be the last option.

”We try to avoid infringement procedures. They are time-consuming and costly. We always hope that the member state will apply legislation without having to resort to litigation”, the EU official said.

If a member state lacked good will, however, ”we can always open infringement procedures”, the spokesman added.

The first EIR reports are expected for late 2016, the exercise will be repeated every second year.

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