Environmental Policy of the European Union
Nowadays, the influence and impact of climate change or global warming is considered a top priority of both regional and international organizations considering the impacts it has to the public. From minor health risks to depleted non-renewable natural resources, each country is now alarmed of the possible consequences these problems would bring to the future and now will stop at nothing to find a solution to the problem. Similar to the issues faced by other developed nations such as the United States, the European nations are now working double time to find solutions in eliminating the risks imposed to their territories by global warming. Considerably, the European Union is now considered one of the frontrunners in the international community as a key advocate to environmental protection, awareness and advocacy; visible in the policies it supports regarding global warming in its own territory since the early 1970s.
The Europeans could be considered high advocates of environmental protection since the beginning of global warming theories in the early 1970s to the 1980s. This could have been influenced by the climate change related disasters it has experienced since the beginning of the 19th century. However, the European Union or its predecessors did not see the importance of the environment upon the dawn of the European Integration’s first stages. According to McCormick (1995), member nations under the European Economic Community mostly concerned itself in developing Europe’s economic power. The EEC was built for the sake of building priorities that would sustain the organization’s common policies – from external tariff, market, and other important factors required for economic development. In this period, the national governments emphasized that other dimensions such as education and the environment are policy issues that are non-existent in terms of economic development. However, many have cited that there is a contradiction in Article 36 of the EEC treaty that puts reservations in putting environmental protection as a national priority to member states.
With the establishment of the EURATOM treaty, it paved the beginning of the Union’s first environmental protection policies. The EURATOM treaty had listed uniform safety standards that would protect their workers and the general public in the workplace or in any location. In 1959, the EURATOM treaty is noted to be the foundation of the first European environmental policy known today as Directive 59/221, which establishes the basic standards and protection clauses for health workers and the public against the dangers of radiation from nuclear, chemical or radiation capable substances. The Treaties of Paris and Rome had argued against the Directive, seeing it as unconnected elements in pushing towards the creation of a common market. However, the 1960s became an eye opener to the European nations and even the United States as they slowly saw the effects of improving living conditions to the environment. The rapid deterioration of the environment launched an all-out offensive against actions that could cause damage to the environment. Similar to the sentiments of their governments and that of the European Community, Europeans themselves are also seeing the gravity of environmental issues and thereby fostering their support to any campaign to protect the environment. The Eurobarometer polls in 1988 showcased citizens from EC member states voting the environment issue as the most important topic the EC should discuss as compared to other issues. Another poll supported this perception of the Europeans on the environment as 75% of the public saw pollution as an immediate problem. These polls continued to show similar results and revealed that the Europeans would support any policy that would sustain environmental protection.
According to Hey (2005), the attitude of the European public and its younger generation became active in pushing for the EC to act upon the environmental issues to sustain the nation. Many called for the rejection of former values that only concerned economic change, calling for the governments and the EC to concentrate on issues that would affect the public in the long run such as the issue in the environment. Several notable disasters also pushed for consideration in the EC as several human-induced global warming effects were recorded from 1966-1969 in Wales, England, and even the ones from California and Japan. The Community then reacted to this call by adopting the Programme of Action of the European Communities on the Environment in November 1973, or the First Environmental Action Programme. Under the First EAP, the EC will abide through principles and objectives that would enable the EC to create its own community policy on the Environment. The EAP also refined the policies under the EEC, by adding the importance of environmental protection to pursue economic development. The second EAP in 1977 supported the call for a Community environmental policy, establishing principles that now serve as the core of the EU’s environmental policies.
Of course even the EC had its own share of problems upon the implementation of environmental core policies which fostered problems for the EAP. The first problem dealt with the EC member states’ disagreement when it comes to the powers to be given to the European Environmental Agency and how much support should be given to the EEA regarding environmental policy and policy-making. The next problem concerns how these environmental programs would be implemented given the nature of policy-making and implementation each state has for their governments. One notable example to this problem is Spain as it was only able to implement 79% of the directives for environmental protection. Finally, there is also the gap in which it restricts member nations to implement environmental policies which would not contradict with the Community’s policies. Since in the period, most of the EC’s policies leaned towards economic development and development of policies, there was a lack of implementation and enforcement form the member states. While these problems would then stretch to the EU eventually upon its introduction, it could be argued that the EU continues to develop its policy-making, policies and structure to enable all its policies to fit newer members once they accede to the EU.
Since the two EAPs were still flawed, the Single European Act had worked with the third EAP to revise the Treaty of Rome to include environmental protection. Under the revisions introduced by the SEA and the third EAP, the environmental protection clause is now legalized as one of the EC/EU’s four policy areas that would be recognized to all future EU policy directives. The EU had also implemented Directorate XI to handle all environment policy-related discussions. According to Connelly and Smith (2003), the Treaty of Rome also includes new articles that would make environmental laws binding for all member states. When it came for the fourth EAP, spanning from 1987 to 1992, its directives were now towards the harmonization of the internal market and environmental protection. A sectoral approach is also specified under the EAP to enable the Community to formulate analysis over the effects of economic development to the environment. Under the fourth EAP, the EC was able to sustain the creation of policies and programs that would create taxes, subsidies and permits to regulate environmental hazards. Upon the dawn of 1993 with the Maastricht treaty, the EU now had the power to sustain the environmental powers it has when it was still the EC. The Maastricht Treaty also understood that the EU’s economic power should be sustainable and would not foster damages to the environmental decision making of the Union. The fifth EAP followed soon after, covering 1993-2000, which consolidates the first four EAPs and now presents a stronger and more firm stance on putting the EU to the road of sustainable development . The Sixth EAP, covering the years 2000-2003, does not share the same lines as that of the first five EAPs. Instead, it focuses more on the key instruments and policies that would help in identifying the environmental problems themselves and how it could be regulated through environmental legislation. The 6th EAP then covers a framework of principles that would cover issues on pesticides, resources, recycling, urban, marine, and clean environment. The chemicals policy and emissions policies are also put into order as key priorities for the new millennium. The 6th EAP could also be considered the cautious approach the EU has done to ensure the environmental policies meet the standards of political and economic development of the Union .
Aside from the EAP and the Directive 59/221, the EU’s environmental policies are also embedded in the structure into which it is created. The European Commission or the Commission of the European Community takes charge of developing the EU’s environmental policies and legislation. The Commission also influences the administration of member states towards their implementation of the environmental policies. The Commission is also tasked of drafting policies, most especially the EAP, for the Council of Ministers to approve. Aside from the European Commission is the College of Commissioners who are tasked to represent directorates that covers a particular reform or issue. In the case of the EC, Directorates-General are put into action to represent their sectors. For the environmental issues and clauses under the EU, DG XI is tasked to lead any venture related to the topic. DG XI also leads the Union in terms of the Union’s environmental objectives and ensures all policies would be applied as serious setbacks may be seen in the EU’s environmental policy making. The European Council only portrays a limited role for environmental policy-making, and yet it also plays the most crucial role by discussing policies and how it is to be implemented. The European Parliament then votes and discusses the legislation, as well as its budgets. Any given environmental policy which does not pass the standards of the Parliament would then be placed to the Conciliation Committee that would create compromised amendments for all parties to agree upon.
It is justifiable that the EU itself is a leader in terms of environmental policy, considering the nature of its directives, history and how environmental protection is embedded in the main policy of the Union. As stressed by McCormick, the European Union is the only international or regional organization in the world which has the capacity to implement policies and agendas binding all its members. Since the mid-1970s, the EU is at the core of most programs dealing with national environmental controls and standards, amending it to fit the international and EU-proposed standards on various environmental issues. The issues range from fuel, air, sulfur dioxide, pollutants, and nitrogen dioxide emissions of all EU members, which then enables the EU to find similarities and differences once it devices common environmental policies for its members. The EU has already released various directives that cover major environmental issues: 12 directives cover water pollution, 14 directives cover energy conservation, 21 directives cover waste management, and finally 24 directives cover air pollution .
As the years progress, the European Union’s environmental policy continues to improve the directives and programs fostered by the EAP and the Union’s policy making agenda in the issue. According to the assessment done by Institute for the Study of Civil Society (2012), the EU’s environmental policy is considerably the most important part of EU’s legislation as it fosters sustainability and development to staggering highs. Most of its legislation, as noted by the group, not only fosters protection of the nations’ environment, but also to ensure that sustainability is met without risking the environment. Aside from the first 6 EAPs, the various directives passed since 1995, and the EU’s Directorate-General XI, there were other policies passed by the beginning of the 2000s. Similar to the Maastricht Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 sustained the call for a sustainable environment and development, supported by the Europe 2020 Strategy. In the same period, the EU released several environmental Directives that work hand-in-hand with the Lisbon Treaty to sustainable development. The 7th EAP, running from 2002-2012, identifies four environmental issues that would need immediate resolution: climate change, nature and biodiversity, environment, health, and quality of life; and natural resources and waste. Several directives were passed through this EAP like the EU Landfill Directive, requiring all states to reduce wastes in landfills by up to 50% to 65% by 2020. In the international stage, the EU takes the lead role in negotiating with fellow UN members to sign the UN drafted Kyoto Protocol, which highlights frameworks to reduce carbon emissions to each nation.
Aside from this, the EU had also launched the 2008 EU Climate Change Package that would formalize that the organization would try to establish 20:20:20 targets within the nation for renewable energy sources and reduction of GHG emissions. In meeting the objective of EU 2020, the Union had devised the Emissions Trading System in 2002 to limit CO2 emissions from 6 industries: namely energy, steel, cement, glass, brick-making, and cardboard production. The EU Climate Change Package also includes aircraft emissions to this system starting this year considering the high volumes it already releases while in flight. Aside from legislation, the EU also devised programs such as the Carbon Capture and Storage system to bury emissions, preventing them from reaching the atmosphere and adding to the current volume of emissions in the atmosphere. In 2008, the EU had also placed a commitment to reduce its emissions from new cars and factories, fining manufacturers for every emission done by their programs. By 2009, the European Court of Justice led the campaign to allow member states to set their own CO2 emission limits .
As of today, the EU continues to remain an active leader in advocating for environmental protection and legislation both regionally and internationally. It also continues to grow as many countries are slowly acceding to be a part of this European organization catering to environmental protection. While it may indeed foster some complications for the Union’s constant drive to protect the environment in its borders as they would need to revise its policies continuously to fit new members, it is undeniable that the EU continues to live up to its role to make a significant change over the global environment. On the one hand, its earlier perception of the environment is warranted that it would not help out in creating European Integration as it does not influence how economics grows in the region. However, one can clearly point out that while the economy grows, the environment suffers. On the other hand, the EU continues to strive in ensuring that it stands up to its goal to aid in reducing the effects of the global disasters as its core theories and framework already embeds its importance. Clearly, the EU’s framework on environmental policies and programmes should be lauded as a framework that could be implemented in the international sphere as each EU nation, despite their differences, managed to put the environment as one of its main policy concerns.
Connelly, J., & Smith, G. (2003). Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice. New York: Routledge.
Hey, C. (2005). EU Environmental Policies: A short history of the policy strategies. In S. Scheuer, EU Environmental Policy Handbook: A Critical Analysis of EU Environmental Legislation (pp. 17-30). Utrecht: International Books.
McCormick, J. (1995). Environmental Policy and the European Union. In R. Bartlett, International Organizations and Environmental Policy (pp. 37-50). California: Greenwood Publishing Group.