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Assessment of the effects of plans and programmes on the environment

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Assessment of the effects of plans and programmes on the environment

This Directive requires certain plans and programmes, which are likely to have significant effects on the environment, to be subject to an environmental assessment. This assessment specifically enables environmental considerations to be integrated in the preparation and adoption of these plans and programmes. It also contributes to sustainable development.


Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment.


This Directive, (known as the “SEA” Directive for “Strategic Environmental Assessment”) aims to supplement the EIA Directive (Directive 85/337/EEC).

The public plans and programmes covered by this Directive are subject to an environmental assessment during their preparation and before their adoption. This assessment includes the introduction of an environmental report (detailing the likely significant environmental effects and reasonable alternatives), as well as carrying out consultations (with the public, the authorities with environmental responsibilities and other Member States in the case of significant cross-border effects). The report on environmental effects and the results of consultations shall be considered before the plan or programme is adopted. Once they are adopted the authorities with environmental responsibilities, the public and any consulted Member State shall be informed and the relevant information made available to them. In order to determine any unforeseen adverse effects as early as possible, it is necessary to ensure that the significant environmental effects of the plans and programmes are monitored.

This Directive applies to the following public plans and programmes (as well as their amendments) which have been prepared and/or adopted by a competent authority and which are subject to legislative, regulatory and administrative provisions:

  • plans and programmes which are prepared for specific sectors (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, industry, transport, waste management, water management, telecommunications, tourism, town and country planning and land use) and which set the framework for development consent of projects under the EIA Directive;
  • plans and programmes for which an assessment is required under Articles 6 and 7 of the "Habitats" Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC);
  • plans and programmes which set the framework for future development consent of projects other than those under the EIA Directive (not limited to the sectors listed above) and which Member States have identified as likely to have significant environmental effects. Member States shall determine this either through case-by-case examination or by specifying types of plans and programmes or by combining both approaches.
  • Minor modifications to plans and programmes and the plans and programmes for small areas at local level, only if they are likely to have significant environmental effects.

Plans and programmes the sole purpose of which is to serve national defence or civil emergency, and financial or budget plans and programmes are not covered by this Directive.

The environmental report shall contain the following information:

  • the contents of the plan or programme and its main objectives and links to other relevant plans and programmes;
  • the existing environmental situation and its likely development if the plan or programme is not implemented;
  • the environmental characteristics of any area likely to be significantly affected by the plan or programme;
  • any existing environmental problems which are relevant to the plan or programme, specifically those relating to zones in the Natura 2000 network;
  • the national, Community or international environmental protection objectives which are relevant to the plan or programme in question;
  • the likely significant environmental effects of implementing the plan or programme;
  • the measures envisaged to prevent, reduce and offset any significant adverse effects on the environment;
  • an outline of the reasons for selecting other alternatives;
  • a description of how the assessment was carried out ;
  • the envisaged monitoring measures;
  • a non-technical summary of this information.

The draft plan or programme and the environmental report must be made available to the authorities responsible for environmental issues and to the public. The authorities and the public shall have the opportunity to express their views on the draft plan or programme at an early stage and within appropriate time frames prior to its adoption or submission to the legislative process.

The Member State responsible for preparing the plan or programme is required to send a copy of the draft plan or programme, together with a copy of the environmental report, to other Member States:

  • where it considers that the plan or programme is liable to have environmental effects on the territory of those other Member States;
  • at the request of those other Member States.

The latter may start consultations on the transboundary effects of the plan or programme with the Member State responsible, as well as on the measures envisaged to reduce or eliminate such effects.

The environmental report, the opinions expressed by the relevant authorities and the public and the results of any transboundary consultations must be taken into account by the competent authority during the preparation of the plan or programme and before it is adopted.

When a plan or programme is adopted, the Member State responsible shall inform all of the parties concerned which have been consulted and make available to them:

  • the plan or programme as adopted;
  • a statement summarising how environmental considerations have been integrated and the environmental impact report;
  • the opinions and the results of consultations;
  • the reasons for choosing the plan or programme as adopted;
  • the monitoring measures undertaken.

Member States may provide for coordinated or Community procedures in order to avoid duplication of environmental assessment in respect of plans and programmes for which the obligation to carry out assessments arises simultaneously from this Directive and from other Community legislation.

By 21 July 2006, and subsequently every seven years, the Commission shall submit a report on the application of the Directive to Parliament and the Council.



Entry into force - Date of expiry

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2001/42/EC



OJ L 197 of 21.7.2001


Report from the Commission of 14 September 2009 on the application and effectiveness of the Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessment (Directive 2001/42/EC) COM(2009) 469 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

The report shows that Member States are just beginning to apply the Directive. Consequently further experience is needed before deciding on whether the Directive should be amended and, if so, how this should be done. Member States are allowing SEA systems and processes to settle down with a view to improving the planning process.

Overall, the SEA Directive contributes to the consideration of environmental concerns in planning processes and to better integration of environmental considerations upstream. By means of its requirements (environmental report, consultation and information of the authorities and public concerned etc.), the Directive ensures better and harmonized planning procedures, and contributes to transparent and participatory decision making processes.

Commission report of 27 October 2006 on the relationship between the SEA Directive and Community Funds [COM(2006) 639 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

Following the completion of the reform of the Structural Funds 2006, every plan or programme which is adopted after 2006 within the framework of these Funds and which falls within the scope of the SEA Directive must be subject to a prior environmental assessment. This assessment replaces the environmental element of the ex ante assessment obligations for development plans, intervention measures and programme complements within the framework of the Structural Funds for the period 2000-2006. Furthermore, where no strategic environmental assessment is required, the obligatory ex ante assessment of the plan or programme must nevertheless take the environmental implications of the proposal into account.

Last updated: 19.03.2010