Implementing Environment Law

The Commission has recently highlighted the negative effects of delayed or inadequate implementation of environmental legislation and has published a document setting out in general terms a potential strategy for improving the situation.
 
The Communication says the costs of not implementing current legislation are around 50 billion Euros a year, including impacts on human health. Effective implementation would result in reducing that figure and administrative burden and creating new jobs, says the Commission.

Improving knowledge of environmental legislation

Member States are the principal actors in implementing EU legislation, and a major focus of the Communication is on enhancing Member State knowledge and understanding of implementing EU environment law. To achieve this, the Communication has put forward a number of objectives.

1. The Commission plans to engage with Member States in order to put in place more effective information systems on implementation, which would result in implementation being followed in the most efficient and timely way possible, in accordance with the Aarhus Convention on access to justice in environmental matters. With regard to this, the Commission will also assess the effectiveness of the Access to Information Directive, the feasibility for Member States to develop structured implementation and information frameworks for all key EU environment laws and the use of EU funding.

2. The Commission also aims to improve EU-level information to complement information systems within Member States, in particular with regard to processing monitoring and other data reported by Member States to the Commission. The Commission will assess how the general public could be provided with systematic and improved online information on implementation, and will also assess ways of working with Member States and the European Environment Agency to extend the approach used in the Bathing Water Directive across all relevant EU environment laws.
 
3. Ensuring confidence in the information generated at national, regional and local levels has also been identified as a priority. The Commission suggests that the European Environment Agency could effectively assist it in ensuring the quality of state-of –the-art environment monitoring at national level.

 
4. The Commission also wants to close important information gaps on compliance and enforcement at national level. The Commission feels that there is a need to work with Member States and intensify a dialogue with key relevant officers in the field, including inspectors, prosecutors and judges. The Commission also underlines the importance of the use by Member States of earth observation techniques.

Improving responsiveness

The Communication also stresses that the EU needs to improve responsiveness at national, regional and local levels. The Commission therefore proposes the following complementary initiatives:

1. The improvement of inspections and surveillance applying to EU legislation at national level, which would ensure trust in the requirements of EU environment legislation. According to the Commission, improvements could be achieved by upgrading the existing framework for inspections and surveillance and by assessing the inclusion of specific inspection and surveillance provisions for all new legislation. The Commission is also of the opinion that improvements may be achieved by assessing options for complementing national inspections and surveillance in a targeted way at EU level, including an EU-level inspection and surveillance capacity, a limited inspection role for the Commission and more systematic use of peer-review inspections, as illustrated by IMPEL initiatives (the network of national inspections).

2. The improvement of complaint-handling and mediation at national level, which would help to deal with concerns and grievances in a consistent and faster way. The Commission proposes an initiative to improve the handling of complaints by Member States. The initiative would cover: (a) complaints focusing on the need for competent authority intervention; (b) complaints focusing on claims of administrative inaction or inequality; and (c) complaints for which mediation or some other similar dispute resolution mechanism may be appropriate.
3. The improvement of access to justice by, for instance, developing guidance to consider a recent case law on the subject and defining at EU level the conditions for efficient and effective access to national courts with regard to all areas of EU environment law.
 
4. The delivery of improvements in environmental outcomes through capacity-building and implementation agreements that engage Member States. The Commission believes that improvements could be achieved through a number of ways including: 
• Active cooperation with EU networks, avoiding duplication and strengthening trans-network links. This could be facilitated, for instance, by assisting national ombudsman on investigation of complaints related to EU environment law, suggesting criteria for employing administrative and criminal sanctions in the case of prosecutors and advising on how to reduce data gaps on compliance promotion and enforcement work at national level. 
• Co-organisation of events on the implementation with the Committee of the Regions; (c) Partnership  implementation agreements that could improve implementation structures within Member States.

Next Steps

The Communication has been sent to the European Parliament and the Council for consideration. The institutions may choose to respond to the Communication in the coming months.

The response to the Communication will feed into the development of the 7th Environmental Action Programme and may also be used for preparing other specific measures in the future.