I was the European Parliament Rapporteur on the Assessment of the implementation of the 7th Environment Action Programme, which sets out binding objectives for the European Union and its Member States to achieve in the field of environment by 2020.
My report, which was adopted by the European Parliament in April, was drafted in the context of the end of the current programme. It was time to ask how well the Programme has been implemented, and what changes should be made to any future EAP.
Hundreds of stakeholders provided valuable input to the assessment process. And many of those stakeholders gave a positive evaluation of the EAP. It was recognised for providing benefits to citizens and the environment, as well as providing long-term vision, and strategic guidance for policy makers.
Yet, despite this general positive assessment, there is a huge gap between the expectations of the EAP and the results it delivers on the ground.
Fortunately, progress has been made in some areas. On resource efficiency and reducing greenhouse gases, the EU’s legislation is making a positive impact, and there is clear progress towards a more resource-efficient economy.
However, in other areas, implementation is very poor. The EU’s natural capital is being eroded, with devastating consequences for the environment and all the services it provides, from fresh water to clean air and food. Environmental threats to health are proving difficult to measure in many areas. A lack of data is part of the problem, although in some cases the evidence is clear: persistently high emissions from road transport, for example, are exposing millions of people to toxic air in the cities they live in.
Often the problem is that Member States are not achieving the basic standards set by laws such as the Birds and Habitats Directives and air quality legislation.
But beyond the basic legal obligations to protect the environment, there is far more to be done to achieve the objectives of the EAP.
EU policies do not always complement each other fully, or sit well with national priorities. A better reconciliation of agricultural policy with environmental objectives is essential for both the planet and for a secure food supply into the future. Traditionally, food security and environmental protection are seen as opposing each other in the debate about agriculture. But they are not opposites! Only a healthy environment, underpinned by functioning ecosystems, can ultimately provide food security.
Progress towards nature conservation and biodiversity targets could also be improved, if available money were used more wisely.
The European Court of Auditors found a number of cases where EU funds were not having the desired environmental benefits.
Both the Commission and the Member States have a role to play in improving the management and use of EU funds to deliver better results, and better value for European taxpayers.
At a regional and city level, urban planning is key to resolving many of the problems around resource efficiency and environmental threats to health. It is surprising, then, that the section of the current EAP concerning cities is criticised by stakeholders for failing to define the objectives.
There was a clear majority, in the Environment Committee, and in the European Parliament, calling for a new, “over-arching” EAP after 2020. In other words, an EAP which is ambitious and broad in scope. At the same time, a majority of stakeholders also say that a future EAP should be simpler and more focussed.
But these two approaches are not contradictory.
They can work together if the targets and goals of the future EAP are clearly defined, and if progress towards the objectives is measurable. Ambition and scope should be equalled by transparency and accountability.
Today I would like to call on governments, at national and local levels, across the EU, to seize the opportunity presented by a new Environment Action Programme.
Solving environmental problems implies big changes, and we must have the political courage, at all levels of government, to face these challenges, and take the necessary action to safeguard our health and environment into the future.
I call on the Commission and on the Council to work together for the adoption of an 8th EAP, but the immediate priority should be the implementation of existing legislation and supporting policies in the areas which have not yet achieved the desired results.
A future EAP should focus on issues which are fundamental to environmental protection and human health, rather than adding a wide variety of new targets and sub-objectives to an already ambitious programme.
As a conclusion, I hope that the Austrian Presidency, as well as the future Romanian Presidency of the Council, will make a priority of the assessment of the 7th EAP, but also of supporting and building the 8th Environment Action Programme, which is extremely necessary for the health of the environment and the wellbeing of the European citizens.
(mesaj adresat de eurodeputata Daciana Sârbu participantilor la reuniunea Policy Forum – Shaping the Future of EU Environmental Policy, organizata la Viena in contextul preluarii de catre Austria a Presedintiei Consiliului UE)