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Guide to the Approximation of European Union Environmental Legislation


This document is a revised and updated version of SEC (97) 1608 of 25.08.1997



Ritt Bjerregaard

Member of the European Commission


Ten associated countries in central and eastern Europe have declared their intention to seek membership of the European Union.


A condition for membership of the Union is that the candidate countries align their national legal systems with existing EU legislation in all areas, the so-called acquis communautaire. This process of integrating EU law into national legal administrative systems is called the approximation process.


This short guide to the approximation of the environmental acquis summarises all existing EU environmental legislation and provides a practical road map to its implementation. It has been produced with the clear aim of helping politicians, civil servants and other decision-makers involved in the approximation process in the associated countries in this important work.


The objective of the environmental approximation process is to ensure the complete alignment of national environmental legislation - and the corresponding administrative system - so that it is 100% in compliance with the requirements of EU legislation. And not just on paper, but, of course, also in fact.


The first step in the approximation process is to make a complete and precise assessment of the legislative and administrative "gaps" which need to be filled in order to ensure compliance. The Guide gives advice on how to carry out such a legislative "gap-assessment" by using analytical tables of concordance.


But the Guide not only focuses on how to achieve formal compliance with the EU environmental acquis. It also contains a number of "implementation considerations" for each piece of legislation which authorities in the associated countries might find it helpful to take into account, when considering how to put the legislation into practice.


The Guide, which is now available in all the national languages of the associated countries in central and eastern Europe, is not meant to be a complete encyclopaedia, covering all possible questions related to approximation, but a practical road map pointing out the main roads and directions ahead.


We have tried to keep the Guide as short, practical and simple as possible. I hope that it will be widely circulated, read and used throughout the national administrations of our future new Member States in central and eastern Europe.


The road to full environmental approximation might seem to be a long and thorny one for most of the candidate countries. I am convinced, however, that the benefits for public health, for the environment - and for the economies of the candidate countries - will, by far, outweigh the efforts which have to be made in order to reach the goal. I hope that this little road map can help even the road and make the journey towards EU membership easier.


Ritt Bjerregaard




European Union environmental legislation has developed over the last 30 years and comprises today some 300 legal acts, including directives, regulations, decisions and recommendations. To this come a large number of communications and other policy documents of relevance for EU environmental policy


However, the body of EU environmental legislation, with which the associated countries in Central and Eastern eventually will have to align their national legislation and administrative practices, as a condition for membership of the European Union - the so-called environmental acquis - is considerably smaller. It mainly of about 70 directives - some of which, however, have been amended several times and supplemented with "daughter" directives - and 21 regulations. About half of these - 36 directives and 11 regulations - are related to products and were covered by the Commission’s White Paper from 1995.


The White Paper aimed at facilitating the approximation efforts of the associated countries by structuring the bulk of EU legislation pertaining to the functioning of the Internal Market in a two groups: Stage One: legislation which would cover the more basic EU legislation in each area, Stage Two: which would cover the legislation based on or related to the first group.


In the White Paper, the Commission recognised the need for complementing the presentation of the environmental legislation with direct bearing on the Internal Market, covered by the White Paper, with a more comprehensive presentation, covering the whole of the environmental acquis.


This is what this Guide seeks to do. It is intended to help senior policy makers and officials in countries preparing for accession to the European Union deepen their understanding of the entire body of EU environmental legislation.


The Guide takes the approach of the White Paper step further with the aim to offer a kind of ‘road map’ to the approximation of environmental legislation, identifying the key issues and steps. This map represents the ground Central and Eastern European countries need to cover if they are to adopt fully the Union's environmental standards and rules.. As we are at the beginning of the road, the Guide looks at issues of transposition in somewhat greater detail than issues of implementation and enforcement, which will become more critical as the approximation process proceeds.


But as every traveller knows, a road map can only give an indication of the terrain to be covered, the distances involved, problems that may be encountered and milestones along the way. Much will be learned as the road is travelled that can only be guessed at the starting point. It is hoped that this brief overview and ‘travellers’ tips’ will simplify preparation for the journey and the early stages of travel so that the ultimate journey can be accomplished with maximum efficiency.


Part 1 answers some of the most common questions about the general requirements in the process of approximation of environmental legislation. It contains two lists of steps to be taken: for the approximation of directives and for the implementation of regulations where actions are needed by the Member States.


Part 2 presents brief overview of the requirements of the EU environmental directives and regulations. It highlights the linkages between them and discusses key policy and administrative questions that need to be addressed in order to secure effective approximation.


The annexes contain: a brief description of the key elements of EU legislation and how to interpret them – for the many non-lawyers who will be responsible for preparing the new national laws and procedures; a list of the environmental acquis to date; and an example of the table of concordance which governments can use or adapt to monitor their progress in the transposition and approximation.


The Guide covers the EU environmental legislation adopted by 1 July 1997. Exceptionally, the Guide also describes some Commission proposals, which, if finally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, are likely to have a significant impact on the legislative framework in a certain area.


The Guide does not include legislation of environmental relevance and importance covered by other sectors of EU law and policy, such as agricultural policy. International conventions to which the Union is a party are only covered in so far as the Union has adopted EU legislation, directives or regulations, for their implementation. Communications and decisions concerning environmental action programmes and other policy documents are not included.


It should be borne in mind that the aim of the Guide is to present 'first principles' only and not a detailed examination of all finer points of interpretation of the individual pieces of legislation nor the general principles of EU law. For this it will be necessary to consult the legislative texts themselves and the interpretations given in the judgements of the European Court of Justice.


Please note that the advice given in the Guide is not legally binding and does not prejudice the position of the European Commission in any way.


Note to the second edition, January 1998:

This guide was first published in English as a Commission Staff Working Paper (SEC(97)1608) in August 1997. In this second edition, which has been translated into the national languages of the associated countries, some minor amendments have been made to the chapters on Waste Management and on Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection. The legislation covered, however, remains the same as in the first edition, i.e. the legislation which was finally adopted by 1 July 1997.

For further information on environmental approximation:

The  Commission newsletter Enlarging the Environment published by DG XI provides regular updates on new environmental legislation and policy.

Authorities in the associated countries in Central and Eastern Europe can get quick answers to questions concerning environmental approximation by calling DG XI's Help Line. The Help Line can be reached by telephone: +32-2 296 87 46, by fax: +32-2 299 41 23 or by e-mail: