Navigation path

High level navigation

Page navigation

Additional tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Print version
  • Decrease text
  • Increase text

Environmental Assessment

A Handbook on Environmental Assessment of Regional Development Plans and EU Structural Funds programmes

To obtain the full text in English please click Handbook (part1, part2, part3, annexes) in PDF format


The need to address the environmental impact of policies, plans and programmes is widely acknowledged and the European Commission and other organisations are actively pursuing research into the use of Strategic Environmental Assessment to meet this objective. This handbook addresses one specific area of programming, the Structural Funds, where there is a particular need to address the synergies that exist between regional economic development and the environment and to ensure that the environmental dimension is effectively integrated into the development and implementation of programmes.

Experience with existing Structural Fund programmes has shown that there have been problems in achieving the level of integration of the environment into programmes that is desirable and this is, indeed, required by the Structural Funds Regulations. The Handbook seeks to address these issues.

The Handbook has been prepared by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) on behalf of Environment DG with the active co-operation and assistance of DGXVI (Regional Development and Cohesion Policy) and DGVI (Agriculture).

Who is the Handbook Designed For?

The Handbook has been designed primarily for use by those competent authorities within Member States and the regions who are responsible for drawing up and managing EU Structural Funds programmes and those authorities who have responsibility for environmental issues. It is designed to give these authorities a thorough review of the environmental and sustainable development dimensions of the Structural Funds process. One of the key messages of the Handbook is that co-operation between the two Authorities is the key element of this process, and crucial to its success. However, the style and methods for such co-operation can be flexible, since they will have to fit into a variety of national and regional systems.

The Handbook could also be used for other types of EU regional development instruments such as Community Initiatives.

The Handbook’s Environmental Assessment Methodology

Regional and national plans are increasingly being subject to environmental assessment procedures (formal and informal) to identify, at a strategic level, potential environmental impacts likely to arise during implementation of the plan or programme. This level of environmental assessment is often referred to as Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and can be defined as:

a systematic process for evaluating the environmental consequences of proposed policy, plan or programme initiatives in order to ensure they are fully included and appropriately addressed at the earliest stage of decision-making on par with economic and social considerations’.()

The whole SEA process is intended to act as a support to planners and decision-makers, providing them with relevant environmental information on the positive and negative implications of plans and programmes.

The methodology presented in the Handbook is based on current SEA methodologies and practices identified during the research carried out prior to the development of the Handbook. It also takes account of the explicit requirements of the Structural Fund Regulations concerning the environmental appraisal of plans and programmes.

For each of these key phases in the development of Structural Fund programmes, a six stages assessment is used to facilitate not only the assessment of environmental impacts but also the possibility of building environmentally beneficial elements into the plan or programme. The six assessment stages are as follows:

SEA Stage Description
  1. Assessment of the environmental situation - developing a baseline
To identify and present information on the state of the environment and natural resources of a region, and on the positive and negative interactions between these and the main development sectors which are being funded through the Structural Funds.
  • Objectives, targets and priorities
To identify environmental and sustainable development objectives, targets and priorities which the Member States and Regions should achieve through development plans and programmes funded by the Structural Funds.
  • Draft development proposal (plan/programme) and identification of alternatives
To ensure that environmental objectives and priorities are fully integrated in the draft plan or programme which define development objectives and priorities for assisted regions, the types of initiatives which could be funded, the main alternatives for reaching the development objectives of a region, and a financial plan.
  • Environmental assessment of the draft proposal
To assess the environmental implications of the development priorities within plans or programmes and the degree of environmental integration in their objectives, priorities, targets, and indicators. To examine to what extent the strategy set out in the document will contribute to or hinder sustainable development in the region. To review the draft document in terms of its conformity with relevant regional, national and EU environmental policies and legislation.
  • Environmental Indicators
To identify environmental and sustainable development indicators intended to quantify and simplify information in a manner that promotes understanding of the interaction between the environment and key sectoral issues to both decision-makers and the public. They are intended to use quantified information to help identify and explain changes over time.
  • Integrating the results of the assessment into the final decision on plans and programmes
To assist in the development of the final version of the plan or programme, taking into account the findings of the evaluation.

The whole SEA process presented in the Handbook is intended to act as a support to planners and decision-makers, providing them with relevant environmental information on the positive and negative implications of plans and programmes. By following the framework of the phases of the programming cycle, the Handbook aims to facilitate the integration of the environmental dimension at each stage.

Structure and Content of the Handbook

The Handbook is divided into three parts. In addition, it contains seven technical annexes.

Part 1 describes the context for the development of the Handbook and its aims and objectives.

Part 2 presents an overview of the Structural Funds, their environmental dimension and the Handbook’s Assessment Methodology.

Part 3 is the main part of the Handbook, the Handbook proper, which deals with each phase in the Structural Funds programming cycle (RDPs, CSFs, and OPs) and sets out the relevant SEA stages for each phase and the actions that need to be carried out by the Environmental and Development Authorities.