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2003 environment policy review

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2003 environment policy review

The purpose of this review, which was requested by the European Council in spring 2003, is to report on developments in environmental policy since 2001, as well as on the challenges posed and the main responses that can be proposed by the European Union and its Member States in the framework of sustainable development.


Communication from the Commission of 3 December 2003, "2003 ENVIRONMENT POLICY REVIEW, consolidating the environmental pillar of sustainable development" [COM(2003) 745 - Not yet published in the Official Journal].


1. This communication is the environmental contribution to the Commission's spring report on the progress made by the EU in attaining the Lisbon goals and assessing implementation of the 6th Environment Action Programme.

In this Communication, the Commission defines the political context of the EU's environmental policy since 2001. It also outlines the trends, challenges and policy responses relating to four priority action areas, and proposes the measures to be adopted in the framework of a renewed approach to environmental policy. Lastly, it addresses specific questions relating to enlargement and the international dimension.

2. The Commission considers that the main challenge for the enlarged European Union (EU) in the years to come will be to devise balanced policies to stimulate growth and employment while protecting the environment and public health against growing pressures and threats in order to preserve our quality of life and that of future generations.

Priority areas of environmental policy

3. For each of the four priority areas defined in the 6th Environment Action Programme, the Commission, after reporting on the activities already carried out, makes a number of recommendations for the future. It considers that further efforts are required in order to meet the commitments undertaken in these areas. These priority matters are climate change, nature and biodiversity, resource management, environment and health.

4. In the area of climate change, in order to meet the Kyoto targets the Commission considers that it is necessary to:

  • implement the measures identified by the European Climate Change Programme;
  • further integrate climate change concerns in other policies, notably energy, transport, agriculture and cohesion policy.

5. In the area of nature and biodiversity, the Commission underlines the need to:

  • make current agricultural and fishing practices more sustainable, in particular by implementing the reform of the common agricultural policy, the progressive reform of the common fisheries policy, and the protection of soils and the marine environment;
  • improve implementation in the field of nature protection, particularly in the framework of the Habitats and Birds Directives, and reinforce the scope for funding of the Natura 2000 network;
  • better assess and highlight the pressures on biodiversity, in particular by developing appropriate indicators;
  • strengthen biodiversity protection at international level, in particular by supporting international instruments such as the Rio de Janeiro Convention on Biological Diversity.

6. In the area of resource management, the Commission considers that environmental concerns must be reconciled with the Lisbon objectives. It therefore recommends:

  • intensifying efforts towards a more sustainable use of resources;
  • ensuring proper implementation of existing waste legislation.

7. In the area of the environment and health, the Commission underlines the need to:

  • develop an integrated approach to environment and health issues in order to better understand the cause and effect links between environmental threats and adverse effects on health, as described in the " environmental and health " strategy;
  • enhance protection against certain pollutants and product groups posing health risks by reducing air pollution, improving knowledge of chemicals, effectively implementing the EU regulatory framework on biotechnology and developing a strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides.

A renewed approach to environmental policy

8. The Commission considers that the above measures will only be effective if placed within a renewed approach to environmental policy that focuses on integration, implementation and information.

9. The EU must therefore enhance environmental policy-making to take into account the environmental impact of other policies. Conversely, the EU must also further integrate the environmental dimension into all other policy areas in order to reduce the pressure on the environment. To maximise policy coherence, this integration must take place at both EU and national/local levels, as well as between these different levels.

10. In addition, it is essential for the EU to enhance implementation of existing Community legislation in order to:

  • reduce the number of infringements of environmental legislation by involving Member States and regional authorities more closely before adopting new rules and simplifying legislation by reducing the financial cost of implementation and providing alternative solutions to complaints and infringement proceedings, in particular by improved access to information;
  • adapt environmental policy to the challenges of sustainable development by taking into account the interaction between the environment and the social dimension (creation of jobs in the environmental field, the impact of the environment on job quality and on the fight against poverty and exclusion), as well as the interaction between the environment and the economic dimension (activities depending on the quality of environmental resources, boosting the image of enterprises that respect the environment, developing environmental technologies, promoting environmental responsibility, etc.).

11. Lastly, the Commission considers that it is in the interests of both the legislative authorities and the general public to develop environmental knowledge and information. The EU must base its policy actions on sound knowledge and, to this end, establish an appropriate framework, improve the knowledge base and manage the risks arising from the limits to the information available. Furthermore, the EU must ensure and improve public access to information and participation in policy-making, in particular by the implementation of the Aarhus Convention on public access to information, public participation and the right to environmental justice.

The specific challenges of enlargement and the international dimension

12. The Commission notes the progress made by the new Member States and the candidate countries in adopting the acquis, but highlights the work that still needs to be done both in institutional and financial terms.

13. The Commission also highlights the four main strands of its response to the international challenges of environment policy: to place sustainable development at the centre of the international agenda by continuing to act as a driving force; to strengthen the coherence between EU internal and external policies and to further integrate environmental concerns into its external policies; to contribute to creating the conditions for global sustainable development; and to enhance the EU's voice in the international environmental debate.


14. The adoption of the European Union's sustainable development strategy in June 2001 placed sustainable development at the centre of the political debate by establishing the principle that a balance must be reached between economic growth, social improvements and environmental protection.

15. A number of initiatives have been launched to implement the sustainable development strategy at all levels: at Community level with the launch of the 6th Environment Action Programme, which is the main vehicle by which to achieve the environmental goals of the sustainable development strategy, at national and local level with the adoption of national sustainable development strategies, and in the private sector with the voluntary development of social and environmental responsibility strategies.

Last updated: 28.07.2004