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Document 52015AR5660

Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — EU environment law: improving reporting and compliance

OJ C 240, 1.7.2016, p. 15–23 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

1.7.2016   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 240/15


Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — EU environment law: improving reporting and compliance

(2016/C 240/04)

Rapporteur:

Andres JAADLA (EE/ALDE), Member of Rakvere City Council (Rakvere linnavolikogu liige)

Reference document:

Letter from the European Commission Vice-President of 2 September 2015

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

A.   General remarks

1.

welcomes the European Commission’s request for an outlook opinion on the issues of improving environmental reporting and compliance assurance of EU environment law. Both issues have been highlighted in the European Commission Agenda on Better Regulation (1);

2.

seeks with the outlook opinion to contribute to the European Commission REFIT initiative ‘Fitness-check on streamlining monitoring and reporting obligations in environment policy’, and to the follow-up of previous CoR recommendations on improving better implementation of EU environment law (2);

3.

stresses that the key responsibility for ensuring effective implementation and enforcement of EU legislation lies with national authorities, very often at regional and local levels, as has been recognised by the European Parliament (3);

4.

underlines that a high level of environmental protection is one of the fundamental objectives of the European Union, and reiterate its concerns about the level of implementation of environmental law;

5.

stresses the numerous benefits to be derived from the careful implementation of EU environmental legislation — not only for the environment and the economy through the creation of fairer conditions for competition and legal certainty for companies and the promotion of innovation, but also — and primarily — through improvement in people’s living conditions and health; stresses in this connection that the cost of inadequate or incorrect implementation of EU environmental legislation is estimated at around EUR 50 billion a year;

6.

takes note of concerns raised by the European Parliament that much of the unnecessary administrative costs linked to the implementation of EU environmental legislation are due to inadequate or inefficient public and private administrative practices in various Member States and in their regional or local authorities (4); in this context it is important that national law should assign local and regional authorities clear powers for the fulfilment of their obligations and that these authorities be given the support to implement them;

7.

encourages, in line with the new European Commission Agenda on Better Regulation, improving this situation and urges the Member States and local and regional authorities to implement EU environmental legislation in the clearest, simplest and most user-friendly way while ensuring its efficiency;

8.

notes, however, that a seminal reason for that inefficiency is due to EU legislation sometimes being drafted without a proper robust and focused prior assessment of the powers, compliance cost implications and capacity issues of the local and regional authorities and of the different environmental conditions in the Member States;

B.   Improving environmental monitoring and reporting (M&R)

9.

stresses that collecting information (monitoring), transferring information (reporting) and publishing and disseminating data are essential to the full policy cycle of developing, implementing and evaluating environment legislation;

10.

reiterates its concerns about the uneven M&R efforts across Europe, with the information generated being often incomplete, incompatible or out-of-date; recognises that better and more accessible information at national, regional and local levels would allow major environmental problems to be identified earlier, facilitating the efficient application of the early-warning systems set out in the various directives, and thereby saving costs in the longer term;

11.

highlights the pivotal role regional and local authorities have in collecting knowledge and in using M&R for providing information to the public, encouraging greater awareness among citizens in cooperation with environmental protection agencies;

12.

stresses that appropriate allocation of responsibilities and resources, and clear information flows in Member States’ environmental M&R requirements between municipalities, regions and the national level are needed, in order to ensure that reports and indicators relating to the state of the environment are consistent, effective and reliable;

13.

encourages local and regional authorities to develop obligations for plan/project developers to submit their environmental data collected for environmental impact assessments and for obtaining permits/licenses required under EU environment law to the local and regional authorities;

14.

underlines how important it is for local and regional authorities to work together closely, involving and supporting the efforts of volunteers, NGOs and interested laypeople engaged in citizens’ science to collect environment data, in particular on biodiversity;

European Commission/EU actions for improving environmental M&R

15.

welcomes that the European Commission is undertaking a fitness-check on streamlining on M&R requirements in EU environment law. The CoR calls on the European Commission to coordinate the fitness-check with the reviews of M&R requirements in other EU policy areas, e.g. for agriculture, energy, and financial services;

16.

supports the European Commission in its intention to develop more modern, efficient and effective environmental M&R in EU legislation. The CoR considers the following objectives as crucial (5):

allow for an assessment by local, regional and national authorities, and the European Commission and for a self-assessment by the regulated sectors of compliance with EU legal obligations,

simplify and reduce administrative burden, also by reinforcing possibilities for reporting once for complementary EU Directives, with less pressure on public authorities at all levels and private sector contributing to the reporting,

better and more clearly inform and thereby empower citizens and stakeholders, including the social partners and business representatives, before submitting Member State environmental data to the European Commission,

help to improve decision-making and inform policy evaluation;

17.

subscribes to the following principles, which should guide M&R requirements at EU level: comprehensiveness and sufficiency, coherence and consistency, comparability balanced with subsidiarity, proportionality, accessibility, timeliness, and continuity (6);

18.

insists that the European Commission, Member States and local and regional authorities in their efforts in streamlining M&R and reducing administrative burden will not:

reduce the provision of environmental information to local and regional decision-makers, the public and civil society,

reduce the reporting of data which are necessary for the European Commission to enforce the EU environmental legislation,

create unnecessary new EU reporting requirements but to prioritise instead wherever possible the use of and interconnection between existing reporting databases to meet EU reporting obligations;

19.

underlines the need for a comprehensive inventory of reporting obligations in the EU environment acquis, a review of the need for these, and an assessment of administrative costs of M&R for local and regional authorities;

20.

requests the European Commission fitness-check of M&R requirements to adequately consider the different aspects of the DPSIR cycle (drivers, pressures, state, impacts, response);

21.

urges the European Commission to explore efficiency gains and address unnecessary administrative burden in M&R in particular by automatisation of the reporting tools, and by looking at synergies across reporting obligations under different directives;

22.

acknowledges existing good practice in environmental M&R requirements. Examples include WISE and the integration of reporting on air emissions of LCPs into E-PRTR;

23.

believes that for improving environmental M&R and visualising its purpose, the European Commission should establish ‘implementation scoreboards’ for additional directives, as existing already for some more recent directives (7);

24.

insists that a horizontal approach for M&R should be developed again in the future at EU level by the European Commission, when considering a repeal of the Standardised Reporting Directive;

25.

acknowledges the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) important role in providing a solid knowledge base underpinning environment policy and implementation, and the value of its work in M&R;

26.

reiterates its support for the development of Structured Implementation and Information Frameworks (SIIFs) as proposed by the European Commission for all key EU environment laws (8);

27.

reiterates its call for the European Commission to ensure that Member States and their local and regional authorities properly implement the existing minimum requirements of the Directive on access to information in environmental matters in line with the Aarhus Convention (9);

Improving environmental monitoring and reporting by digital means

28.

sees substantial potential in e-solutions and eGovernment to assist local and regional authorities in streamlining of their environmental M&R, in particular in view of reducing administrative burdens on local and regional authorities and businesses; capturing of structured data and systemised M&R outputs; facilitating risk analysis; improving quality of M&R, e.g. by M&R guidance and web-forms; as well as better information for the public and better public participation;

29.

calls upon the European Commission and the EEA to explore within pilot projects how M&R requirements on local and regional authorities can be reduced by ICT and e-government without affecting the impact of legislation;

30.

calls on the European Commission to evaluate in its fitness-check approaches where operators and local and regional authorities can use the same eReporting tool for several pieces of EU environment legislation;

31.

reiterates its call on the European Commission, the EEA and Member States to further exploit the opportunities of earth-observation techniques, such as GMES, for improving the effectiveness of monitoring (10);

32.

stresses the need to promote investments in online information systems, and tools, including user-friendly web portals and web pages, and urges that system users, such as local and regional authorities and operators, be involved in developing systems;

33.

calls for a drive to ensure the comprehensive cross-sectoral and cross-border interoperability of the EU and Member States’ e-services in the field of environment at the national, regional and local levels (11);

34.

underlines the important role of public environmental (spatial) information plays for digitally-based businesses, including SMEs and start-ups; encourages local and regional authorities to harness the full potential of re-using public sector information, and supporting digital entrepreneurial skills in using these data, in order to support citizens, businesses and civil society in developing new services, increase competitiveness and create new jobs;

35.

calls on the European Commission to further encourage the exchange of best practices and technologies amongst Member States, regional and local authorities and to promote digital environmental M&R and provision of environment information, and research and innovation on it, in its upcoming eGovernment Action Plan 2016-2020, and in future calls for proposals under the LIFE programme, the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), and the Horizon 2020 programme;

36.

encourages local and regional authorities to promote the development of digital environmental M&R and SIIFs and increase of administrative capacity, by making use of the technical assistance under the European Structural and Investment Funds;

REFIT evaluation of INSPIRE

37.

believes that stocktaking is needed based on the experience gained with the implementation of Directive 2007/2/EC establishing an Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) to establish which of the substantive and technical requirements of the directive are appropriate and capable of implementation from a cost-benefit point of view. In this connection anticipates the REFIT evaluation of the INSPIRE Directive, which enables the sharing of environmental spatial information among public sector organisations and facilitates public access to spatial information across Europe;

38.

supports further development of INSPIRE as an eGovernment tool to provide the central common format and process for data collecting on environmental spatial information for streamlining environmental M&R, and making compliance assurance and enforcement of EU legislation more efficient, applying the Open Government Data principles and Smart City digital solutions to the publication and dissemination of data;

39.

calls on the European Commission to examine the possible consequences of making INSPIRE requirements on formats mandatory in other areas;

40.

believes that INSPIRE can deliver substantial benefits to local and regional authorities and urges Member States, with support from the European Commission, to strengthen the involvement of their regional and local authorities in the INSPIRE process and to build capacity to implement INSPIRE among local and regional administrations (12);

41.

calls for a greater coordination role of the EEA and European Commission JRC in ensuring consistency and compatibility in the collection and collation of the different data at EU level, as done under various tools, e.g. INSPIRE, GMES, GEOSS, and EyeonEarth;

C.   Improving compliance assurance of EU environmental law

42.

notes the emphasis the European Commission Agenda on Better Regulation places on the ‘Make it Work’ initiative of some Member States (13) which is providing advice on compliance assurance provisions in EU environmental law;

43.

deplores the lack of coherence and consistency in compliance assurance requirements across the different pieces of EU environment law, with different levels of detail in the provisions and different definitions having evolved separately over time. This can result in local and regional authorities facing problems in interpreting and integrating these provisions when undertaking compliance assurance activities;

44.

supports the following principles for compliance assurance under EU environment law: designation, powers and professionalism of competent authorities; information based compliance assurance; an appropriate mix of compliance assurance activities; carrying out planning, evaluation and revision of compliance assurance activities; communicating with the public and ensuring follow-up; ensuring effective coordination between different authorities;

45.

calls on national, regional and local authorities to apply in addition to the above principles a risk-based based approach to compliance assurance, and urges the EU to make recommendations for implementation which take account of the specific features and interests of the local and regional level;

46.

sees the risk assessment as an important chance for the competent local and regional authorities to reduce unnecessary administration burden whilst maintaining a high standard of environmental protection, by better prioritising the use of their limited inspection resources;

47.

believes that EU environment law should be focused above all on the risks of non-compliance and its potential impact on the environment and health;

48.

calls on the European Commission to come forward in the near future with an initiative on compliance assurance which covers compliance promotion, monitoring and enforcement, focuses on a risk-based approach and delivers on the 7th EAP;

49.

supports the option of a horizontal EU directive, which would establish compliance assurance provisions based on the above-mentioned principles across the EU environmental acquis; and which would also deliver on the CoR’s call for the European Commission to come forward with a general, binding EU framework on environmental inspections and surveillance (14);

50.

sees competent local and regional authorities as being in a crucial position in particular for compliance promotion activities which involve cooperation with the regulated community and information to citizens about non-compliance and outcomes of major inspections carried out;

51.

urges Member States, regional and local authorities to consequently apply enforcement and adopt proportionate and dissuasive sanctions on breaches of EU environment law, and to consequently apply Directive 2008/99/EC on environmental crime;

52.

urges, as a complementary action, the European Commission and Member States to continue to strengthen the role of the EU Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL), including in particular ensuring adequate long-term financial support for IMPEL, increasing IMPEL’s systematic use of peer-review inspections and joint inspections (15) in all key areas of environment legislation; increasing its cooperation with other European networks that work on compliance assurance, and further developing national IMPEL networks that engage experts from regional and local authorities in sharing best practices;

53.

supports the European Parliament’s call (16) on the European Commission to promote capacity-building of networks of judges and prosecutors also specialised in environmental crime;

54.

requests the European Commission to consider in its possible new initiative on compliance assurance the previous CoR calls for the a need to revive the stalled directive on access to justice in environmental matters, as also supported by the European Parliament, and for general criteria for national complaint-handling systems (17);

55.

recalls that EU Structural Funds have a specific Thematic Objective aimed at improving capacity of local and regional authorities and sufficient EU funds should therefore be allocated for that purpose.

D.   Further actions for improving implementation of EU environment law

Actions by the European Commission and the EU

56.

In order to further implement the 7th EU Environment Action Programme and its priority objective 4 on improving implementation, and to follow-up on recommendations in previous CoR opinions on improving implementation of EU environment law, the CoR urges the European Commission and the EU (18):

(a)

to adopt effective source-based policies which further align the levels of ambition and the timeframes of EU source-based or product-based legislation with those of EU legislation on environment quality standards or targets, to better assist competent local and regional authorities in meeting the EU limit values, to identify the transboundary issues that are beyond these authorities’ own direct responsibility, and expanding cost-recovery options in EU environment law for competent local and regional authorities;

(b)

to further promote, financially support, and where appropriate, to expand and consolidate existing and very diverse, when not overlapping EU initiatives that support innovation and best practices in cities and to encourage cities to showcase their leadership, in particular by further developing the European Green Capital Award, and the new European Green Leaf award for smaller cities;

(c)

to further make compulsory the carrying out of an analysis on the territorial and competitiveness impact at regional and local level in impact assessments when drafting or revising EU environment legislation; and to further encourage the participation of local and regional authorities and the local business communities in the extended European Commission public consultations in the preliminary legislative stages and in the implementation of legislation;

(d)

as part of the ongoing regulatory fitness work to conduct territorial and competitiveness impact assessments on the existing environmental acquis and binding targets;

57.

asks the European Commission to set up a European Commission expert group composed of representatives from Member State, local and regional authorities and key stakeholders, to provide advice on improving the quality and coherence of the EU environmental acquis and of its implementation, or to integrate this task within the mandate of existing European Commission expert groups of a similar composition; the CoR offers to contribute to this group;

Actions by the Member States, regional and local authorities

58.

The CoR urges:

(a)

Member States to closer liaise with the implementation administrations, already in the phase of policy development, and in the transposition and implementation phase, for example in the framework of cross-governmental dossiers teams that are composed of administration experts from all government levels within a Member State;

(b)

local and regional authorities to set up local/regional environmental goals and strategies, or include environmental goals in current (integrated) sustainability strategies, backed by political will;

(c)

Member States, with support from the European Commission, to take further steps towards greater integration of the pieces of EU environment legislation by introducing integrated environmental permits;

(d)

national and regional environment ministries and agencies, with the involvement of representatives of local and regional authorities, to develop guidance documents, including checklists for procedures;

(e)

Member States to transpose EU environment law in a timely, accurate and effective manner;

(f)

Member States, regional and local authorities to progressively phase out environmentally-harmful subsidies and increasingly use market-based instruments and environment-friendly fiscal reforms;

Reinforcing cooperation of the CoR with the European Commission, European Parliament and the Council on improving implementation and scrutiny of EU environment law

59.

welcomes the new emphasis the co-legislators place on improving implementation of EU environment law and its scrutiny (19);

60.

asks the European Parliament and the Council to jointly explore with the CoR how the CoR in its advisory function can bring the experiences of local and regional authorities to their individual scrutiny exercises;

61.

highlights the experience it has gained with the joint CoR/European Commission Technical Platform for Cooperation on the Environment, which provides a forum for fostering dialogue on local and regional problems and solutions in the implementation of EU environment law;

62.

stresses that the Platform has been recognised and placed on a sound and long-term basis by the Council and the European Parliament in 7th EAP, which confirms that the Platform will ‘facilitate dialogue and information pooling, with a view to improving the implementation of legislation at local level’;

63.

seeks therefore to contribute to the further development of the Technical Platform, and suggests that the European Commission explore, with the European Parliament and the Council, how far meetings of the Technical Platform could be associated with European Parliament and Council debates on better environmental implementation and scrutiny;

64.

appreciates that the European Commission in the field of EU environment policy over the last years took a pro-active approach in seeking early input by the CoR into policy drafting, by requesting outlook opinions as stipulated in the cooperation agreement signed by both institutions (20). The CoR suggests exploring jointly if on a more regular basis, one meeting of the Technical Platform could be co-organised within the framework of each outlook pinion.

65.

calls on the European Commission to closely associate the Committee of the Regions with any future initiatives that aim at improving environmental implementation and governance, such as the Environmental Implementation Review (EIR) initiative (21);

Brussels, 7 April 2016.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Markku MARKKULA


(1)  COM(2015) 215 final.

(2)  CDR593-2013_00_00_TRA_AC, CDR 1119-2012, CdR 164/2010 fin.

(3)  European Parliament Resolution of 12 March 2013 (2012/2104(INI)).

(4)  European Parliament Resolution of 12 March 2013 (2012/2104(INI)).

(5)  MiW — Make it Work Project 10/2015: Discussion Paper for Joint Commission Make it Work Workshop on Monitoring and Reporting, Brussels 19-20 November 2015, http://www.ieep.eu/assets/1857/Discussion_paper_for_Workshop_on_Reporting_13-10-15.pdf, European Commission public consultation on ‘Streamlining monitoring and reporting obligations in environment policy’, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/consultations/reporting_en.htm

(6)  MiW — Make it Work Project 10/2015.

(7)  Overview of existing scoreboards: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/legal/reporting/products_en.htm

(8)  CDR1119-2012_00_00_TRA_AC.

(9)  CDR1119-2012_00_00_TRA_AC.

(10)  CDR1119-2012_00_00_TRA_AC, CdR 163/2011 fin.

(11)  See also COR-2014-05514-00-00-AC, COR-2015-02646.

(12)  EEA Report Technical report No 17/2014, INSPIRE Public consultation report: http://inspire.ec.europa.eu/reports/consultations/INSPIRE_Public_Consultation_Report_final.pdf

(13)  http://www.ieep.eu/work-areas/environmental-governance/better-regulation/make-it-work/

(14)  CDR593-2013_00_00_TRA_AC, CDR1119-2012_00_00_TRA_AC, CdR 164/2010 fin.

(15)  CDR1119-2012_00_00_TRA_AC, CdR 164/2010 fin.

(16)  European Parliament Resolution of 12 March 2013 (2012/2104(INI)).

(17)  CDR1119-2012_00_00_TRA_AC, CdR 164/2010 fin; European Parliament Resolution of 12 March 2013 (2012/2104(INI)).

(18)  COR-2015-04129, CDR593-2013_00_00_TRA_AC, CDR1119-2012_00_00_TRA_AC, CdR 164/2010 fin.

(19)  Statement by ENVI Committee Chair Mr La Via on 3 March 2015 in the CoR ENVE Commission; Council Secretariat-General, 9 October 2015: Greening the European Semester: environmentally harmful subsides and implementation of environmental legislation — Exchange of views. Presidency background paper http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-12790-2015-REV-1/en/pdf

(20)  CdR 164/2010.

(21)  http://ec.europa.eu/smart-regulation/roadmaps/docs/2016_env_088_environmental_implementation_review_en.pdf


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