EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

Back to EUR-Lex homepage

This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website

Fifth European Community environment programme: towards sustainability

This summary has been archived and will not be updated, because the summarised document is no longer in force or does not reflect the current situation.

Fifth European Community environment programme: towards sustainability


Presentation of the new Community strategy on the environment and the measures to be taken towards sustainable development for the period 1992-2000.


Resolution of the Council and the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States, meeting within the Council of 1 February 1993 on a Community programme of policy and action in relation to the environment and sustainable development.

Decision No 2179/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 September 1998 on the review of the European Community programme of policy and action in relation to the environment and sustainable development "Towards sustainability".



The Treaty establishing the European Community, as amended by the Single European Act, explicitly provides for the development and implementation of a Community policy on the environment. The Maastricht Treaty sets the European Union the objective of promoting sustainable growth while respecting the environment.

The Declaration of the Heads of State and Government, meeting in the Council on 26 June 1990, called for a further action programme for sustainable development, meaning a policy and strategy for continued economic and social development without detriment to the environment and the natural resources essential for human activity.

For twenty years, Community environment policy has essentially consisted in the elaboration of a legislative framework aimed at combating pollution and protecting the environment.

The state of the environment

In spite of the adoption of this legislation, the report on the state of the environment published in 1992 described a deterioration in the environment over the same period, in the following fields in particular:

  • atmospheric pollution: reduction in emissions of sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates, lead and CFCs, but sharp increase in emissions of 'greenhouse' gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and nitric oxide (industrialisation, transport);
  • aquatic pollution: improvement with regard to point sources of inland water pollution, but increased pollution from non-point sources (notably agriculture), threat to water quality, eutrophication of fresh waters and pollution of marine waters;
  • soil degradation: inadequate waste management, risks arising from industrial activities, increased spreading of nitrates and sewage sludge in agriculture, increased use of hyper-intensive farming, excessive use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, acidification and desertification in some areas;
  • nature conservation: threats to biota and their natural habitats, reduction in biological diversity, deterioration of the coastal environment, mountain and forest areas (fire);
  • the urban environment: deterioration of the living environment due to pollution, noise, and damage to the architectural heritage and public places;
  • waste management: increased amounts of domestic and industrial waste, poor use of recycling and reuse options.

The report clearly indicates that in the absence of new political initiatives, the damage to the environment will continue to increase.

The fifth programme of action in relation to the environment


The objective of the fifth programme of action in relation to the environment (hereinafter the programme) is to transform patterns of growth in the Community in such a way as to promote sustainable development. The programme continues to tackle environmental problems (such as climate change, aquatic pollution and waste management), but also aims to establish new relations between the actors in the environmental sector.


The programme sets out a new approach to Community environment policy based on the following principles:

  • the adoption of a global, proactive approach aimed at the different actors and activities which affect natural resources or pollute the environment;
  • the will to change current trends and practices which harm the environment for current and future generations,
  • encouraging changes in social behaviour by engaging all the actors concerned (public authorities, citizens, consumers, enterprises, etc.);
  • establishing the concept of shared responsibility
  • using new environmental instruments.

For each of the areas it covers, the programme establishes long-term objectives, sets performance targets to be met by the year 2000, and prescribes a set of actions with a view to achieving the specified objectives. These objectives do not constitute legal commitments but, rather, performance levels to be aimed at now in the interests of attaining sustainable development.

Challenges and priorities

In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the programme tackles environmental problems which require action at Community level due to their impact on the operation of the internal market, cross-border relations, sharing of resources and cohesion.

The Community is limiting its action to the following priority areas:

  • long-term management of natural resources: soil, water, countryside and coasts;
  • an integrated approach to combating pollution, and acting to prevent waste;
  • reducing the consumption of energy from non-renewable sources;
  • improving the management of mobility by developing efficient and clean modes of transport;
  • drawing up a coherent package of measures to improve the quality of the urban environment;
  • improving health and safety, in particular in relation to the management of industrial hazards, nuclear safety and radiation protection.

Target sectors

The programme underlines the importance of Community intervention in selected target sectors. This approach is the most effective means of tackling the problems facing the Community. The target sectors are as follows:

  • industry: the Community wants to step up the dialogue with industry, encourage voluntary agreements, develop rational resource-management, improve the information available to consumers, adopt Community standards for manufacturing processes and products whilst avoiding distorting competition, preserving the integrity of the internal market and maintaining European competitiveness;
  • energy: action in this field is indispensable if sustainable development is to be achieved; this will require an improvement in energy efficiency, a reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels and the promotion of renewable energy sources;
  • transport: transport demand and traffic have increased with the completion of the internal market. Measures must be taken rapidly to improve the management of infrastructure and vehicles, develop public transport and improve the quality of fuels;
  • agriculture also contributes to the deterioration of the environment through the increase in intensive farming, the use of fertiliser and the accumulation of surpluses. A reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and forestry development, taking into account environmental requirements, is indispensable;
  • tourism is expanding rapidly and leading to a deterioration of mountain and coastal regions. The measures proposed include improving the management of mass tourism and the quality of tourism services, promoting alternative forms of tourism and information and awareness campaigns.

International cooperation

For a long time, Community environment policy focused mainly on solving problems within the Community. Member States, however, soon came to recognise the global nature of pollution and the need for concerted action at regional and international level. Article 130r(1) of the EC Treaty includes the objective of promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems.

Four major environmental problems call for international action: climate change, ozone layer depletion, biodiversity loss and deforestation.

The cooperation can be multilateral, in the framework of different international institutions (UNEP, OECD, the Council of Europe), or bilateral, in the framework of aid to developing countries and combating trans-border pollution.


In addition to the regulatory instruments which have generally been used with regard to the environment, the programme provides for the development of a broader mix of instruments:

  • regulatory instruments: fixing new minimum levels of protection, implementing international agreements and establishing rules and standards with a view to the internal market;
  • financial instruments: incentives for producers and consumers to protect the environment and use natural resources in a responsible manner (economic, fiscal and civil responsibility measures) and "price corrections" to ensure that products and services which respect the environment are not penalised in terms of cost;
  • horizontal measures: improving information and environmental statistics (need for comparable nomenclature, standards, criteria and methodologies), promoting scientific research and technological development, improving sectoral and spatial planning, public information (development of databases) and professional training;
  • Financial support mechanisms: LIFE programme, Structural Funds, Cohesion Fund, EIB loans.

The programme reviewed in the light of the 1998 Decision:

Following the evaluation of the initial programme in 1995, the Community decided to step up its efforts in certain priority areas to give new impetus to the campaign to achieve sustainability:

  • integrating the environment into other policy areas: improving methods and stepping up the coherence of actions;
  • concentrating on the intervention areas (agriculture, industry, transport, energy and tourism) and laying down an action programme containing the priority objectives;
  • broadening the range of environmental instruments with a view to greater efficiency: examining the obstacles to the introduction of financial instruments and identifying any solutions, using environmental taxes, environmental accountability, voluntary agreements (in compliance with competition law), identifying aid schemes which prejudice sustainable development, promoting environmental liability at Member State level, developing standardisation, improving training methods and tools, evaluating plans and programmes;
  • better implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation; adopting integrated strategies; simplifying the legislation and administrative procedures, using framework directives, monitoring application, developing cooperation between competent authorities, transparency of measures, dealing with infringements which come to light;
  • increasing public awareness of environmental problems: improving access to information, integrating the concept of sustainable development in Community education and training programmes, evaluating and disseminating the results of Community policy;
  • stepping up international cooperation: developing Community initiatives, intensifying cooperation (climate change, aquatic pollution, management of industrial risks, biodiversity, etc.);
  • improving environmental information: comparable and reliable statistics and indicators, cost/benefit analysis of measures and their impact on enterprises, setting up auxiliary or satellite accounts in relation to national accounts with a view to establishing a national system of green accounting;
  • developing the use of sustainable methods of production and consumption;
  • encouraging practical methods of shared responsibility and partnership: reinforcing the dialogue between all the actors;
  • promoting regional and local initiatives: sectoral and spatial planning, exchanges of experience, encouraging local initiatives.

4) deadline for implementation of the legislation in the member states

Not required

5) date of entry into force (if different from the above)

6) references

ResolutionOfficial Journal C 138, 17.05.1993

DecisionOfficial Journal L 275, 10.10.1998

7) follow-up work

8) commission implementing measures

Report - COM(95)624 final Progress report from the Commission on the implementation of the European Community programme of policy and action in relation to the environment and sustainable development "towards sustainability"

The report contains an evaluation of the fifth Community programme in relation to the environment three years after its entry into force, and underlines the need for modifications to improve efficiency. The Commission also highlights the lack of progress regarding the integration of environmental requirements into the agricultural and tourism sectors. With regard to transport, the increase in the number of vehicles has completely negated improvements attributable to fuel quality and the development of cleaner technologies.

Communication - COM(1999) 543 final Communication from the Commission concerning the global assessment of the European Community Programme of Policy and Action in relation to the environment and sustainable development, "Towards sustainability".

As well as giving a global assessment of the implementation and achievements of the Fifth Community environment programme, which ended in 1999, the Communication launches a debate with the other Institutions, stakeholders and citizens regarding the priorities for a sixth programme, to be put forward in 2000.

Environmental protection has moved forward in the Community, and Community policies have brought about a reduction in trans-boundary air pollution, better water quality and the phasing-out of substances which deplete the ozone layer. This progress has been somewhat modest because the Member States and the various sectors covered by the programme have not really managed to take proper account of environmental concerns or to integrate them into their policies. The Union is still far from having achieved the broader objective of sustainable development laid down in the Treaty of Amsterdam.

In the sixth programme the Community will pursue and step up its action in the areas already covered by the fifth programme. The programme will address key environmental priorities alongside the strategies of the main economic sectors and will deliver the environmental policy measures essential for sustainability. In addition, the Community will attempt to define quantifiable objectives, as well as indicators and control mechanisms. The next programme will take account of the enlargement process.