Environmental implementation: Commission urges better application of EU environmental rules

The European Commission has published the third Environmental Implementation Review (EIR), a key reporting tool that supports environmental enforcement and raises awareness about the importance of implementing environmental rules. Bridging the gap between what is decided at Union level and what is implemented on the ground is essential to ensure good environmental outcomes for citizens, and to maintain a level playing field for businesses while creating opportunities for economic development.

Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, VirginijusSinkevičius, said: “This year's Environmental Implementation Review is a call to action. While it shows progress in some areas since the previous review, I am concerned that in other areas, the implementation gap is still getting wider, which makes us all more vulnerable to environmental pollution and related risks. This analysis provides Member States with the tools and information they need to improve implementation and better protect our health and the environment. Let's make good use of it!”

This Environmental Implementation Review (EIR) draws conclusions and defines common trends at EU level, based on 27 individual country reports showing the state of play in the implementation of EU environmental law. It includes a wealth of information about how well EU governments are protecting the quality of the air citizens breathe, the water they drink and the nature they enjoy. Furthermore, the review sets out priority actions for improvement in each Member State.

State of play in main environmental policy areas

  • Biodiversity in the EU continues to decline. Some of the habitats rated as in the poorest condition across the EU are semi-natural grasslands, bogs, mires and ferns. Forests are under huge pressure and most Member States still need to speed up efforts to complete their Natura 2000 networks.
  • Water: progress towards achieving good status for water bodies is slow, and some Member States are late with the adoption of key instruments to address this, notably the River Basin Management Plans. Likewise, Member States are required to adopt their flood risk management plan in a timely fashion in order to better manage the flood risks in their country. In addition, implementing rules for drinking water are still a cause of concern in a few countries. Moreover, implementation of EU rules on nitrate and urban wastewater treatment has been sluggish due to inadequate planning and infrastructure, despite availability of EU funds.
  • Circular economy: while most Member States have national circular economy strategies and action plans in place, there are considerable differences between Member States' resource productivity rates and circular material use rates. Productivity rates measure how efficiently an economy uses resources to in the production, while circular material use rates measure the share of material recovered and fed back into the economy. More action is needed to improve the recyclability potential of plastics, construction materials and textiles. Waste prevention remains an important challenge in all Member States, and in some countries substandard landfills still need to be tackled.
  • Air pollution is still a major health concern for Europeans. Member States need to fulfil air quality monitoring requirements in a systematic and consistent manner in order to better enforce clean air at national and EU level. Achieving compliance requires strict measures, notably switching to sustainable mobility powered by renewables, introducing low-emission agricultural techniques, including for livestock, manure and fertiliser management.
  • Climate: overall, there is a good level of implementation of climate legislation throughout the EU; it is now important to agree and implement the package of measures to meet the -55% target established in the Climate Law for 2030. However, adaptation efforts in each Member State and at EU level need to be intensified to cope with the harsh reality of increasing climate impacts. Appropriate action to prevent and/or minimise the climate-induced damage brings significant economic, environmental and social benefits.

Implementation enablers

Many Member States need to ensure more financing is available to cover the investment needs across the environmental objectives and priorities. For the first time, this EIR compares for each Member State the available funding for environmental implementation with the investment needs. The investment needs in the EU to meet the environmental objectives stand at €110 billion per year. Almost two thirds of the environmental investment gap relates to tackling general pollution and protecting and managing water bodies.

Adapting and reinforcing Member States' administrative capacity is critical to delivering EU legal compliance and implementation, and ensuring effective access to justice at national levels is essential for the implementation of environmental law. These are pillars of environmental governance. There is still room for most Member States to improve the public's access to courts in order to challenge decisions, acts or omissions, particularly in the areas of planning relating to water, nature and/or air quality. Most Member States also need to keep the public better informed about their access to justice rights.

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European Commission press service, Brussels.

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