Implementation of EU environmental legislation in the areas of air quality, water and waste (exploratory opinion)

EESC opinion: Implementation of EU environmental legislation in the areas of air quality, water and waste (exploratory opinion)

Key points

  • The EESC welcomes the purpose of the Environmental Implementation Review (EIR), which is to provide an informed picture of where each Member State stands, identifying their main shortcomings in implementing EU environmental legislation, as well as to recommend remedial measures and to provide support to those Member States lagging behind in terms of implementation, in particular through a new peer-to-peer tool for technical assistance.
  • In its opinion[1] on this subject however, the EESC considers that the EU EIR reveals that poor, fragmented and uneven implementation of the EU environmental legislation is a serious problem in many EU Member States. Both now as in the past, behind the root causes of poor implementation identified in the EIR there still appears to be a lack of political will on the part of many Member State governments to make substantial improvement a political priority and to provide sufficient resources (e.g. through the multiannual financial framework – MFF). The EESC therefore recalls that proper implementation of the EU's environmental acquis is in the interest of European citizens and has real economic and social benefits.
  • Similarly, as argued in the above-mentioned opinion, the EESC reiterates that effective implementation of environmental protection measures hinges partly on civil society - employers, workers and other representatives of society − being granted an active role. The EESC consequently repeats its call for stronger and structured involvement of civil society, which would have the potential to strengthen EIRs. For the EESC, civil society organisations at national level must be given the opportunity to contribute their expertise and insight to the country reports as well as to the structured country dialogues and the follow-up to them. For this reason, the EESC is ready to facilitate civil society dialogue at EU level in the framework of a truly sustainable and circular economy.
  • In its opinion on the EU action plan to improve environmental compliance and governance[2], the EESC again stresses that current shortcomings are undermining people's trust in the effectiveness of EU legislation, and renews its call for the Member States and the Commission to mobilise substantial funding for the recruitment of additional staff, in order to monitor the implementation of environmental governance and legislation.
  • The EESC underlines that in some cases, environmental investments, awareness raising of the public or strong enforcement chains are also needed and that even if environmental inspectors already exist, Europe and its Member States also need specialised judges and prosecutors.
  • The EESC also points out that, as indicated in its opinion[3], in addition to action with regard to the relevant Member States and public, aimed at communicating and raising awareness of the rules to be complied with, measures must be taken relating to monitoring and enforcement at EU level by the Commission as "guardian of the treaty". The action plan[4]  fails to address reasons for non-compliance with the rules such as opportunism or lack of political will. While it is necessary to support the Member States, the EESC once again points out that the soft measures of this action plan cannot be the sole strategy for improving environmental compliance.
  • Both the EIR and the action plan follow a two-year cycle. The EESC emphasises that it should play an active role in monitoring and developing their content, so that the voice of civil society is heard in the ongoing process of improving the EU's environmental policies.
  • Moreover, since a number of European Commission documents show that many shortcomings are due to a lack of cooperation between different governance levels (national, regional, local) response for implementing environmental legislation, the EESC also urges the EU to involve civil society in the ongoing monitoring and evaluating of this implementation.
  • EU citizens consider environmental protection to be of crucial importance. The majority of citizens however think that the EU and national governments are not doing enough to protect the environment. The Council, Parliament and Commission should consequently work together more closely with the EESC's help to meet people's expectations. More specifically, this ambition could take the form of requesting the EESC to draw up an exploratory opinion on how civil society could contribute more to drafting and applying EU environmental legislation.
  • In immediate terms, the EESC calls on the Commission to share the EIR's list of all identified shortcomings per Member State in the implementation of EU environmental legislation regarding air quality, water and waste. The list should be based in part on indications made to the Commission, and on consultation with organised civil society. It also calls on the Commission to define and subsequently apply remedies to correct these failings. The EESC, to the extent of its means and expertise, is willing to contribute to this definition and to take part in evaluating the future implementation of such remedies.
  • The EESC considers that the Commission should not only propose legislation, but also facilitate and support the application of law, and also make existing texts more consistent with each other and bring them more into line with scientific advances and international commitments intended to protect public health and restore the proper functioning of ecosystems. Without these ecosystems neither economic development nor social justice is possible. In particular, the implementation of environmental legislation is essential for the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to put climate agreements into practice. Consequently, the EESC draws the attention of the competent authorities to a number of examples of improvements to environmental legislation concerning air, water and waste in this opinion.
  • Lastly, in the light of the recent proposal for a directive on single-use plastics, it appears certain that the high level of acceptance of the proposed measures is due to the information and media measures on plastic pollution of the oceans, which have brought about greater citizens' awareness of the problem. The EESC considers that the same applies for many other measures capable of providing people living in the EU with a healthy place to live and adaptation to climate disruption, and of halting the collapse in biodiversity. In this regard, the EESC restates the need for the committed participation of civil society in favour of population education and the expected redoubling of efforts by European, national and local authorities to making the public, together with public and private decision-makers (in particular in SMEs-SMIs), to these major challenges of the 21st century.

[1]           Opinion on the EU Environmental Implementation Review, OJ C 345, 13.10.2017, p. 114.

[2]           Opinion on EU actions to improve environmental compliance and governance , OJ C 283, 10.8.2018, p. 83.

[3]           See footnote 3.

[4]           COM(2018) 10 final