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Environmental policy in the enlarged EU faces major challenges

Demands on competitiveness will have a strong impact on the Union’s environmental policies


Press release 12 May 2004 The environment is important for all citizens of Europe. They expect a great deal of the EU’s environmental policy. However, it is quite a different matter whether the people’s expectations and political reality accord with each other. Demands on competitiveness will have a strong impact on the Union’s environmental policies. In Sitra’s report Parantaako EU ympäristön? Laajentuneen EU:n ympäristöpolitiikka (Will the EU Improve the Environment? EU Environmental Policy in the Enlarged EU) published on Wednesday May 12, 2004 Laura Järvinen takes a look at the EU’s environmental policy, its key functions and principles. The report is an overview of how the EU’s environmental policy works and is administered. In addition, it also covers the main challenges facing the Union’s policies regarding the environment. In the report Laura Järvinen assesses the effect of enlargement on the EU’s environmental policies. The focus on environmental matters is likely to decrease since enlargement means that the number of pioneers in environmental questions will now become a clear minority in the Union. The new member states should devote 2-3 per cent of their GDP to investment in the environment in order to achieve the present level in the Union. In the early stages of membership, however, it is probable that they will play down the importance of environmental care and only meet the Union’s minimum requirements. With 25 members in the new Union the pace at which matters are handled will be slower. The average time taken to pass legislation with 15 members was eight years, so it is clear that the EU now faces a major problem. Moreover, the suspicious attitude towards environmental matters on the part of the new members will also slow things down. The EU has to become more efficient in order to maintain its credibility as an international environmental agent. The role of the European Union in environmental care will, inevitably, have to change, in the opinion of Laura Järvinen. – The main question is whether the goal is to be a common set of EU regulations or the harmonisation of national legislation. It is important that legislative flexibility be increased but directives alone will not suffice. Funding and economic priorities also affect how the Union’s environmental policy is put into practice. Funding decisions are likely to be an important tool for steering and harmonising environmental and economic policy in the enlarged Union. Much remains to be done when it comes to putting environmental legislation into practice in the EU and its member states. The member countries’ intricate practices in incorporating the Union’s regulations into their national legislation and also the innate complexity of the Union’s regulations put a brake on this process. The Commission’s interpretation and the member countries’ own interpretations do not always coincide. Regulations that are difficult to implement also lessen the EU’s credibility because administration and politics are regarded as bureaucratic and difficult. Increasing the decisions passed by a qualified majority in environmental matters would facilitate a more efficient EU environmental policy. At present the original intentions are often watered down during long negotiations and the search for compromises. The braking effect of the opposition of a single nation in the case of unanimous decisions weakens the effect of the measures to protect the environment. The report is a part of Sitra’s Europe 2020 programme that is being carried out in the years 2000-2005. The project concentrates the future prospects for key questions that will affect Finland and the European Union. Further details Laura Järvinen, Researcher, Sitra’s Europe 2020 project, tel. +358-9-6189 9407 Peter Ekholm, Project Director, tel. +358-9-6189 9235 Publication details Parantaako EU ympäristön? Laajantuneen EU:n ympäristöpolitiikka (Will the EU Improve the Environment? EU Environmental Policy in the Enlarged EU). Laura Järvinen. Sitra Reports 40. ISBN 951-37-4209-1, ISSN 1457-571X (paperback). Edita Publishing Oy. Helsinki 2004. The report is available free of charge from Sitra, tel. +358-9-618 991, e-mail: The report is available in electronic form (PDF format) from Sitra’s Internet pages under the address publications > Publications in Finnish > Sitra raportteja -sarja.

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