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Ιmplementation of EU environmental legislation must become a priority

Active involvement of civil society is crucial, says EESC

As the Commission is getting ready to publish the second edition of the Environmental Implementation Review (EIR) next year, the EESC highlights that poor, fragmented and uneven implementation of the EU environmental legislation is a serious problem in many EU Member States. Current shortcomings in implementation of EU environment protection measures are undermining people's trust in the effectiveness of EU legislation. Ensuring proper implementation of the EU's environmental law must therefore become a priority for the EU and Member States, e.g. through adequate financing and stronger involvement of civil society.

Although the EU has a very large body of legislation on environment, environmental protection is still a challenge in many areas. For example, a recent report by the European Court of Auditors has concluded that EU action to protect human health from air pollution has not delivered its expected impact. Every year, air pollution causes about 400,000 premature deaths in the EU and hundreds of billions of euros in health-related external costs. In its exploratory opinion "Implementation of EU environmental legislation: air quality, water and waste", prepared at the request of the European Parliament, the EESC provides recommendations to overcome shortcomings in implementation of environmental legislation on the ground as well as gaps in legislation that may lead to implementation issues.

The implementation of environmental legislation is essential for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change. "Environmental protection is a priority for EU citizens, yet too many gaps still exist in implementation of EU laws on air, water and waste," says Arnaud Schwartz, rapporteur of the EESC's opinion. "EU and Member States must step up efforts to protect our planet and our health."

The EESC considers that the Commission should not only propose legislation, but also facilitate and support the application of law and address the reasons for non-compliance with the rules, such as opportunism or lack of political will. "Soft measures alone cannot be the sole strategy for improving environmental compliance", emphasises Mr Schwartz. "Stronger enforcement mechanisms are also necessary".

Effective implementation of environmental protection measures hinges partly on civil society being granted an active role. "Employers, workers and other stakeholders must be given the opportunity to contribute their expertise and insights not only for the implementation, but also for the monitoring and evaluation of environmental protection measures", says Mr Schwartz.

Furthermore, the EU must systematically ensure that imported products also satisfy its social and environmental legislation. "Only if the EU itself keeps high standards and demands the same from its trading partners, will it increase and continue to foster the trust of its citizens, be they producers or consumers", Mr Schwartz concludes.

Education and information campaigns – such as the campaign against plastic pollution in the oceans – can help bring about greater citizens' awareness and earn their support for many other measures capable of providing people living in the EU with a cleaner environment and a healthy place to live.

More on the specific EESC proposals related on air quality, water and waste, as well as on the opinion, can be found on our webpage.

Mr Schwartz will present the opinion at meeting of the European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) on 22 January 2019. In 2019, the EESC will also draw up an exploratory opinion at the request of the European Commission on how civil society could play a more constructive role in the implementation of environmental laws.