The Environmental Implementation Review: a new tool to ensure the implementation of EU legislation

Thursday 20 April 2017

In February, the European Commission adopted the Environmental Implementation Review, a new set of initiatives to help the EU Member States in the implementation of the EU environmental policies. The main objective of this new tool is to deliver concrete benefits to citizens, economic operators and public administrations through the early identification of implementation problems and gaps in order to achieve more effective results. 

The Environmental Implementation Review gives a comprehensive overview of how EU environmental policies and laws are applied in all Member States. It is composed of a Communication which identifies common challenges in EU countries, an Annex which suggests possible actions for the future, as well as 28 country reports which highlight national challenges and opportunities in environmental implementation.

The Review takes into consideration nature and biodiversity, water quality and management, waste management and air quality.

Concerning nature and biodiversity, the EC Communication echoes the results of the Nature Directives Fitness Check concluded last year. Once again, it is acknowledged that EU legislation is effective in protecting the environment but that a better implementation is needed. The Commission also highlights that marine biodiversity is particularly threatened by “unsustainable fishing and harvesting of aquatic resources, modification of natural conditions, climate change and ocean acidification, pollution by chemicals, plastics and noise”[1].  

The results of the implementation review of the water legislation, which includes the Water Framework Directive and the Nitrates Directive, confirm that “the most common pressures on water quality are pollution from agricultural activities and industry, followed by poor flow regulation and morphological alterations, weak river management and illegal or excessive water abstraction[2]. Moreover, the policy findings highlight once again that despite some progress, nitrate levels remain a critical issue in almost all Member States and that the most problematic situation occurs in the Baltic Sea because of eutrophication. Other gaps that limit the full implementation of water policies include lack of coordination and cooperation between water and nature management bodies, lack of data and ineffective controls.

Waste management remains a pressing issue for many Member States. This first edition of the implementation review is focused on municipal waste as many countries still show low separate waste collection and recycling rates. Concerning recycling, six Member States have already reached the municipal waste recycling target of 50% while many others need to make big improvements to reach this objective by 2020. Implementation gaps in waste management are mainly due to governance related problems such as lack of coordination, weak enforcement, poor data collection and lack of control and monitoring.

Although some progress has been made, air pollution is still a major cause of illness in the EU. Only a few Member States do not exceed the PM10 and NO2 limits established via EU legislation[3]. Domestic, industrial and transport emissions need to be tackled, and while some cities and Member States have already taken important steps in this direction, more needs to be done to reduce the negative impact of air pollution on human health.

As mentioned above, in order to support Member States in solving these issues, the Commission also published an Annex that lists a number of policy actions that can be put into place to improve implementation. Moreover, the 28 country-specific reports draw attention to the weaknesses and successes of each Member State in the implementation of the EU environmental laws and policies. These reports will be published every two years in order to enhance the dialogue between the Commission and the Member States and to facilitate the exchange of experience and best practices to solve the most critical common problems.

[1] Communication from the Commission “The EU Environmental Implementation Review: Common challenges and how to combine efforts to deliver better results”, Pag 5.

[2]Communication from the Commission “The EU Environmental Implementation Review: Common challenges and how to combine efforts to deliver better results”, Pag 8.

[3] Air Quality Standards:

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