The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomes the communication of the European Commission on a Soil Strategy for 2030 and wishes to be regularly informed and actively contribute to the preparation of the proposal for soil protection.
Soil is a strategic and threatened economic and environmental asset and it deserves a framework of targets, programmes and regulations. The Committee urges the Commission to promote a European legal framework that is effective at preventing soil degradation, supporting restoration programmes and fixing the road map towards a good soil health status. The Committee also calls for the necessary allocation of resources from the European budget for the implementation of the Soil Strategy.
For the implementation of the strategy, the Commission foresees the adoption of a Soil Health Law. However, the EESC recommends to carry out the planned impact assessment and then to decide upon the most appropriate instruments. The EESC also recommends for the framework to build on the following principles, so as to ensure a level playing-field for all stakeholders operating in the economic sectors linked with soil and its use:
providing a clear definition of "healthy soils", indicators and threshold values developed on a scientifically sound basis;
setting clear targets for 2030 based on the definition of "healthy soils";
guaranting an adequate level of environmental protection and climate action;
fully respecting the principle of subsidiarity, given the heterogeneity of soils, the variety of uses and demands for use, the different geological, climatic and landscape conditions as well as the differentiated hazards and national rules already in place;
prioritizing of measures on education, advice, knowledge transfer and incentives for soil protection over additional legal obligations;
keeping the administrative burden for all actors to a reasonable level while ensuring its affordability.
The Committee recommends having the broadest possible discussion, with economic and social actors as well as with civil society organisations, about the contents of the legislative initiative. For this reason, the Committee calls on the Commission to present a proposal as soon as possible, in order to allow time for the discussion before the vote of the text within the current legislative mandate.
The Committee highlights the need to address all aspects of soil degradation, with a special focus on the topics of soil contamination, land take by urban developments and infrastructure, and of organic matter depletion in agricultural soils, as these phenomena have a particularly deep and potentially irreversible impact on soil health and its capability in terms of providing ecosystem services.
There is a great diversity of soils in Europe, reflecting differences in climate, geology and land use; the threats to which soils are exposed also differ in type and intensity, therefore the policies developed in order to prevent soil degradation requires adaptation to different geographical and cultural contexts. Legislation for soil protection in Member States (MSs) is heterogeneous and fragmented, and many soil threats are not addressed by the policy and legislative frameworks of several MSs.
The Committee also point out the crucial and urgent need to address the human caused impacts on soils due to climate change. Therefore, the Committee strongly recommends to integrate in the new EU Soil Strategy actions against erosion and desertification linked to extreme floods, droughts and fires.
The Committee expresses great concern about land take caused by urbanisation processes which, in the vast majority of cases, affect fertile soils of plains and coastal areas. The goal "zero net land take" to be pursued by 2050, must be accompanied by incentives to encourage the reuse of abandoned sites and the restoration of unused impermeable surfaces.
The Committee considers a priority, consistent with the challenge of a circular and resource-efficient economy, safeguarding the ecological productivity of European soils, thus reducing the footprint of EU demand towards third countries. It considers an absolute priority the finalisation of the initiatives for deforestation-free guarantees in international trade.