Written by Anne Altmayer,
Launched by the European Commission in 2016, the Environmental Implementation Review (EIR) is aimed at providing an overview of how well Member States are implementing EU environmental law and at helping them if they are struggling. The Commission says that insufficient and uneven implementation causes damage to the environment and human health, and entails high costs. The EIR is a response to calls from the European Parliament and others to improve the situation and better integrate environmental law into other policy areas.
The new tool
On 27 May 2016, the Commission launched the Environmental Implementation Review as a new tool for improving the implementation of EU environmental law in Member States.
The EIR is meant to provide a comprehensive picture of the efforts made by individual Member States, to identify their main implementation gaps and to support them in anticipating or solving problems. The EIR is a soft-policy instrument creating no new legal obligations. The review is planned as a biennial exercise. It is designed along the lines of existing tools used, among other things, for the internal market or the digital single market. As it will make use of data that is already available, there will be no additional reporting obligations for the Member States.
The tool’s overall objective of improving the implementation of environmental law is one of the priorities of the Seventh Environment Action Programme adopted in 2013 by the co-legislators.
The Commission finds that implementation of EU environmental legislation is lagging behind in many Member States, and that it varies significantly between and within Member States. Shortcomings in the implementation of environmental law account for the second-highest number of infringement cases. Significant gaps have in particular been identified as regards waste management, waste-water treatment and air quality.
Among the possible reasons the Commission gives for the inadequate implementation of environmental law are inadequate administrative capacity, weak enforcement practices (including inappropriate sanctions and fines), limited knowledge and awareness, insufficient data, underinvestment or delayed investment in necessary infrastructure, and insufficient attention to deadlines. The Commission also points to structural impediments, such as unsatisfactory coordination between different government-level authorities (horizontal coordination) and between national, regional and local-level administrations (vertical coordination). Moreover, according to the communication, environmental concerns are not sufficiently integrated into other policy areas.
Consequences of non-implementation
The Commission stresses that non-implementation or incomplete implementation of environmental law causes harm to the environment and health, and brings about economic costs estimated at €50 billion a year. Economic costs arise, among other things, from remediation operations or from jobs not being created (for instance, in the waste management industry). Moreover, the Commission draws attention to the fact that the differences in implementation between Member States create an uneven playing field for businesses, and generate barriers in the internal market. It says failure to meet environmental objectives also undermines the credibility of national authorities and the EU in the eyes of its citizens.
How the new tool will function
The EIR comprises three major parts. The first is a country-specific report for each Member State, drawn up on the basis of data collected by the Commission or the European Environment Agency. These reports will aim to reflect the environmental situation across relevant thematic areas, such as water quality, soil protection and waste management, and will list major challenges to be addressed. They will also take account of the main implementation factors, such as administrative capacity, access to justice and environmental information, environmentally relevant taxation and subsidies. Providing a comprehensive overview, they will serve as the basis for a structured dialogue between the Commission and the Member State concerned, and will help in finding solutions to persistent problems. The reports will be published only after consultation with the Member State. In the second part, the Commission will synthesise the main findings of the 28 reports and highlight significant implementation gaps common to several Member States (horizontal findings). These will be submitted to the Council of the EU for further discussion. The Commission will also inform the European Parliament about these key horizontal findings and engage with the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and local and regional representatives (for instance through the CoR/EC Joint Technical Platform for Cooperation on the Environment). The results of these dialogues will feed into the follow-up of each cycle. The annex containing suggestions for actions forms the third part of the exercise.
From the second cycle onwards, the Commission will also report on progress achieved towards implementation. The first round of reports is expected in February 2017.
The European Parliament has repeatedly expressed its concern regarding the implementation of EU environmental law. In its resolution of March 2013 on improving the delivery of benefits from EU environment measures, and its resolution of February 2016 on the mid-term review of the EU’s biodiversity strategy, Parliament underlined the unsatisfactory level of implementation of environmental law. It called, for instance, for better integration of environmental legislation into other policy areas and for full application of the precautionary principle. Moreover, Parliament has made a number of suggestions for improvement concerning data collection and availability of information, the dissemination of good practices and the involvement of citizens, among other things. It has also called on the Commission to consider involving local authorities to a greater extent in the process of defining environmental policy.
European Committee of the Regions
According to the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), 70 % of EU environmental law is being implemented by regional and local authorities. In its 2016 opinion on reporting and compliance related to EU environmental law, the assembly underlined that any efforts to overcome implementation gaps should take into account the regions’ and municipalities’ responsibilities. In this context, the CoR supports, for instance, the Commission’s efforts to streamline monitoring and reporting, as well as its calls for a horizontal EU legislative framework on compliance assurance. Moreover, the CoR underlines that it needs to be closely involved in the EIR and suggests that the CoR/EC Technical Platform could be linked with Parliament debates on environmental law implementation.
At the latest meeting of the CoR/EC Technical Platform in September 2016, participants underlined the importance of having improved coordination between national authorities and (associations of) regional and local authorities for implementing environmental law. The CoR is currently drafting an opinion with political recommendations on the EIR, which is likely to be adopted in its plenary session of October 2017.
Download this publication on ‘Environmental Implementation Review‘ in PDF.