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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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.