Wither European Environmental Law?

I am clearing out some old papers and came across some old reports on the Implementation of EU Environmental Law. Well, to be fair, the reports are so old they refer to Community Environmental law.


In light of the new direction in Europe of doing very little, if anything, on the environmental front, and the continued debate on poor implementation of EU Environmental law, I looked over some of these reports. Many of them mention the giants of old in Europe’s Environmental policy, forceful men like Ken Collins. The issues though are as relevant today as they were where in 1990.

Europe’s Environment Laws – The Great Paper Chase?

“The credibility of the European Union itself rests in part, on its ability to implement and enforce legislation. This is true for environmental protection as for any other area. However, in the environment field, public support is also vital because people to know who is responsible for protecting and improving their environment and who they can speak to if they think laws are not respected.”

Ken Collins, Chairman of the EP Environment Committee. European Commission: Implementing Community Environmental Law, 1996


Have Things Changed?

Former Chair of the Environment Committee, Karl Heinz Florenz described the situation on at the confirmation hearing for Mr Vella as a “disaster”.

This is nothing new. The implementation and enforcement of  EU Environmental law has always been pretty dire.

The UK’s House of Lords Select Committee has published two excellent reports  in 1991 (apologies I can’t find a link)  and 1997, examining the causes and possible solutions to this poor record.

These excellent reports have in the main been ignored by the European Commission, MEPs and Council officials and Ministers. Laws are still passed that make little sense in plain legal english, let alone laws that the people writing them have any idea how they’ll be implemented on the ground. Sometimes, it seems that the easiest way to deal with the hard work of  implementing what has been written down is for everyone to simply ignore it, and write a guidance document saying that black is white, or similar madness.

The EU Treaty

I realise that such a traditional approach as looking to the EU Treaty is seemingly deeply unfashionable these days. I have always found some comfort that the Law was put in place to keep in check politicians and regulators who found the confines of the rules, due process and the Law, unfortunate impediments to the greater good, or whatever that greater good is deemed to be this week.

But, it is useful to look at the basic rules. The European Court is still, for the time being, hung up on the application of the core basics.

The Treaty is very clear about the need for the Law to be upheld.

Article 2

“The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law  …”
Of course, in case some people had forgotten, the EU has a clear basis to act on the environment, and they need turn no further than Article 3 of the Treaty, and you can then go on deeper into the Treaty. I find  just looking at the preamble too brief.

Article 3

“… It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment.”


New Directions

President Juncker has clearly been a reader of these reports. His Political Guidelines outline 10 Priorities talks about a very few things better and leaving the rest seemingly up to the Member States. President Juncker’s  mission letter to Mr Vella is limited on the precise initiatives on the environmental agenda and it seems as limited meeting the enforcement challenge.

DG Environment and the Environment Committee will now have a lot of time to focus on enforcement and implementation. Given the poor state of the implementation, maybe people will soon become nostalgic for their efforts to be re-deployed to passing new but largely ignored rules very quickly.

Of course, if one waits around and is patient enough,  currents trends will be replaced by re-cycled old ones.