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Environmental inspections: minimum criteria

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Environmental inspections: minimum criteria

This recommendation sets, in a non-prescriptive way, minimum criteria for organising, performing, following-up and publishing the results of environmental inspections in all Member States with the aim of improving compliance and ensuring that EU environment legislation is applied and implemented more consistently.


Recommendation 2001/331/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 April 2001 providing for minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States [Official Journal L 118 of 27.4.2001].


In their respective Resolutions of 14 May 1997 [EP 259.215/63] and 7 October 1997 [Official Journal C 321 of 22.10.1997], the European Parliament and the Council stressed the need to fix criteria and/or minimum guidelines for inspections performed in Member States and possible ways to enable Member States to supervise their implementation. This would foster greater consistency in implementing and applying environment legislation in the Member States.

This recommendation aims to meet this need by putting forward minimum criteria for organising, performing, following up and publishing environmental inspections. However, they are not binding on the Member States.

It covers environmental inspections of all industrial installations, companies and facilities subject to authorisation, permit or licensing requirements under current EU environmental legislation ("controlled installations").

Inspection entails the following:

  • checking that installations comply with EU environmental requirements;
  • monitoring the impact of installations on the environment.

The following actions are planned: site visits, monitoring compliance with environmental quality standards, inspecting environmental audit reports and statements, checking premises and equipment, checking the suitability of environmental management and of the relevant records.

The recommendation lays down a general obligation on Member States:

  • to aim for a high level of environmental protection when organising and carrying out environmental inspections;
  • to cooperate with the other Member States on an administrative level in applying the recommendation.

Member States will have to plan their environmental inspection tasks and have at all times at least one environmental inspection plan covering the controlled installations on their territory. Such plans may be drawn up at local, regional or national level and must be available to the public in accordance with Directive 2003/4/EC concerning freedom of access to information on the environment. They must include: an indication of the geographical area, the period and the sites they cover, information on updating the plans, programmes for routine inspections, procedures for non-routine inspections and a plan for coordination between the different inspecting authorities.

Environmental inspections will include routine on-site inspections by the authorities, which must:

  • respect a number of minimum criteria (compliance with Community legal requirements, risk analysis based on an integrated approach which studies all the effects of the installation on the environment, enhancing the knowledge of those who run such installations as regards environmental requirements, coordination between the different inspection authorities involved);
  • be mandatory in certain specific areas (enquiries carried out following environmental complaints, enquiries into accidents, incidents or infringement cases; checks carried out before authorising a controlled activity or before renewing authorisations);
  • be recorded in reports which will be made available to the public in accordance with Directive 2003/4/EC.

Additional requirements are set for enquiries into serious accidents, incidents and infringements of Community legislation:

  • to clarify causes, environmental impact, responsibilities and possible liabilities;
  • to indicate the action to be taken to mitigate, end or prevent incidents;
  • to allow for penalties and to indicate follow-up action.

Two years after the publication of the recommendation in the Official Journal, Member States will report to the Commission on how it has been applied. The results will be made available to the public. On the basis of these reports, the Commission will examine the functioning and effectiveness of the recommendation and will assess the case for extending the scope of the minimum criteria. It will submit a report to the European Parliament and the Council and, if appropriate, a proposal for a directive. The Commission must also, in cooperation with the European Environment Agency and the IMPEL network, draw up minimum criteria concerning the qualifications of environmental inspectors. Member States should develop the necessary training programmes.


Communication from the Commission of 14 November 2007 on the review of Recommendation 2001/331/EC providing for minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States [COM(2007) 707 final - not published in the Official Journal].

The Commission has stated that all Member States have submitted a report on the implementation of the Recommendation, but that the information provided was often incomplete or difficult to compare. These reports also showed that few Member States have fully implemented the recommendation. The Commission does not consider it appropriate to make the inspections described in the recommendation a legally-binding requirement. However, it does feel that they could be improved, particularly by broadening their scope by clarifying certain definitions, laying down new criteria for the planning of inspections, simplifying reports to provide information that can be compared. Furthermore, in addition to the general criteria defined in the recommendation, the Commission feels that legally-binding sectoral requirements should be established for certain installations or specific activities. The Commission also stresses the importance of cooperation and exchange of information on projects linked to the IMPEL network.

Directive 2003/87/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 October 2003 establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community and amending Council Directive 96/61/EC [Official Journal L 275, 25.10.2003].

The European Union is establishing a greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme for the cost-effective reduction of such emissions in the Community. This scheme should enable the Community and the Member States to meet the commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions made in the context of the Kyoto Protocol. Installations operating in the energy sector, iron and steel production and processing, the mineral industry and the paper and card industry will automatically be subject to the emission trading scheme and will be obliged to declare their emissions of greenhouse gases. These statements are then checked, which may involve on-site inspections.

Directive 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning integrated pollution prevention and control [Official Journal L 257, 10.10.1996].

The European Union defines the obligations with which highly polluting industrial and agricultural activities must comply. It establishes a procedure for authorising these activities and sets minimum requirements to be included in all permits, particularly in terms of pollutants released. The aim is to prevent or reduce pollution of the atmosphere, water and soil, as well as the quantities of waste generated by industrial and agricultural installations to ensure a high level of environmental protection. Member States are responsible for ensuring that these industrial installations comply with requirements, organising on-site inspections where necessary.

Last updated: 27.11.2007