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LIFEnews features 2009

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A number of management level changes took place at the LIFE Programme during 2009. These involved a merger with the Environmental Technology Action Plan (ETAP) support services and their Eco Innovation funding scheme. Closer cooperation with NGO funding was also introduced.

The changes provided an opportunity to clearer define the main functions of LIFE and led to a reshuffle of the overall team into two new dedicated units. One unit is now responsible for LIFE’s Nature & Biodiversity activities and another unit has been created to integrate LIFE Environment with ETAP and its Eco Innovation projects. The LIFE Environment unit also supervises NGO support and oversees the activities of LIFE’s Information and Communication component.

Heads of Unit were appointed in October 2009 to roll out the new LIFE management structure and both bosses have clear opinions about their units’ priorities for 2010, as well as beyond. LIFEnews went to find out more about their thoughts and plans for the future.

Greater integration for LIFE Environment

(photo:Tim Hudson)Mr Hervé Martin
Head of Unit
LIFE Environment and Eco-Innovation
(photo:Tim Hudson)

Mr Hervé Martin is heading up the new LIFE Environment unit and this former medical physician, who holds a useful collection of policy and financial experience from within the Commission dating back to 1987, explains the rationale behind establishing his new unit. “The changes that we have made are based on the audit report which indicated that the implementation of LIFE was excellent and there was a huge need to bring LIFE the financial instrument closer to policies. By this we mean integrating LIFE Environment more with policy preparation, policy development, policy negotiation, as well as policy enforcement. It made sense to bring LIFE Environment and ETAP together since ETAP is, and will continue to be, a key tool for the Commission to drive forward its environmental agenda”.

Linking projects to policies

The new unit’s structure has “a huge mandate to bring back finance to policy” and this will be assisted by its important role in running LIFE’s Information and Communication component. Mr Martin sees the advantages of coordinating these functions and he highlights how the Information and Communication component made possible the useful outcomes from October’s ‘Water for life: LIFE for water’ conference. “This type of event provides the Commission with a direct feedback channel to identify issues involved with its policy implementation. The conference was very successful in this sense and it allowed the Commission to identify practical issues that can help strengthen effective implementation of the Water Framework Directive”.

These linkages between policy and project financing will continue to be fostered by Mr Martin who believes that gaps in these areas needs to be filled in order to make the best use of environmental support resources. By way of example he refers to the point that “some EU funding programmes promoting environmental research at pre-commercialisation stages have no direct links back into the policy sphere. There is often no follow-up from the funding body about whether a project’s findings have relevance for different policy development processes. It remains up to the projects themselves to try and influence the market or policy makers”.

“What we will be doing with our new multipurpose mandate is filling any such gaps for our projects and providing a kind of bridge to ensure that our policy development remains informed by our follow-up on project findings. These will include projects that are co-financed by LIFE within its traditional beneficiary base, as well by the unit’s other more market-oriented Eco-innovation interventions”.

Another case cited by Mr Martin to illustrate the benefits from greater integration of LIFE Environment within wider policy spheres is that “positive project outcomes at local level can be used very effectively during negotiations at higher EU level. For example, if a Member State is concerned that new regulatory proposals might create certain problems for their particular circumstances then it is can be very useful to have a bank of project knowledge from similar local situations to demonstrate how the same problems have been addressed elsewhere, or even already within that Member State”.

Priority areas

These examples demonstrate some of the thinking behind increasing project capacities in order to help “bring policy colleagues closer to the environment”, which the new unit has started already by having thematic meetings with policy stakeholders on issues such as climate change, waste and water.

The pragmatic Head of Unit at LIFE Environment is aware that “we will not be able to bring LIFE closer to all policies and we will need to set our priorities but there is certainly a lot of interest in helping resource the roll out of key environmental policy areas such as waste and water.” He continues, “The Water Framework Directive requires river basin partners to achieve certain ecological objectives for the likes of quality of fauna and flora by 2015/2016. Some Member States have very useful LIFE experiences in this type of activity that can be transferred to other countries to help them achieve and enforce the WFD standards. For this we need the flexibility to develop different types of responses to different environmental management needs and we have more and more flexibility under the new legislation to do this”.

“More and more Member States are less and less keen to have binding requirements and they want to be able to govern their own processes based on actions that reflect their own specific territorial needs, whilst also addressing the higher level global issues set out in the EU’s strategic policy documents”. A key policy framework is the ETAP and Mr Martin draws attention to the likelihood that it “will probably be given much more prominence by the Commission in 2010 and beyond following the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change”.

(photo:Tim Hudson) LIFE projects increasingly focus
on addressing climate change
(photo:Tim Hudson)

“There is a need for a global response to climate change and Copenhagen will set the scene for conditions for Eco innovation in the EU, particularly in terms of tax, permits, maximum emissions and regulations. These will shape the new framework that I see the unit working towards in the future. We already register a growing number of LIFE project proposals which are primarily targeting both mitigation and adaptation climate actions. Over 30 examples of these LIFE+ and LIFE projects are being presented at a special seminar that the programme is organising to share experience about different approaches for implementing climate change actions.”

Held in Helsinki during January (18-19), the seminar aims to discuss how the LIFE + programme can be better targeted to make more positive contributions to climate change, and in particular how the latest scientific findings can be transferred into practical mainstream actions by Member States. Findings from the seminar will feed into the planning process for a successor to LIFE +. This preparatory work will be launched in the summer of 2010 and, as well as investigating LIFE’s links with climate actions, it will also explore a broad spectrum of issues and options regarding the future of LIFE.

“In the short-term I do not anticipate any major shift of LIFE’s climate change funding. I foresee that it in the future there may be more of a clearer division between the unit’s climate action work, with LIFE channelling more of its efforts towards mitigation measures, working with priority sectors identified by EU that have most impact on reducing emissions, such as transport, industry and agriculture. Climate adaptation actions would then be picked up more and more by our Eco Innovation functions”.

Future directions

Confirming a demarcation of duties and clarifying future directions for the new LIFE Environment unit are upmost matters on Hervé Martin’s mind. “In my understanding the impacts of the recent reshuffle on the project level activity in Member States will not be very significant. The benefits would rather be linked to better harmonisation of procedures for selection and monitoring, which we are for example already trying to implement for the NGO programme using the existing structures for LIFE action grants”.

Streamlining and harmonisation, by implementing good examples and best practice from experience of managing the unit’s respective programmes, is expected to lead to more effective and simplified procedures. This will “facilitate programme management in DG Environment and possibly also bring positive impacts to applicants in the sense that it may be easier for them to identify the most appropriate programme for their application. If procedures are similar, there will also be less administration for them in trying to understand how things work”.

“We have to see how this will work in practice with the current set of instruments. The present financial period finishes in 2013 and the Commission will come forward with new proposals in 2011, which means we have an interim period when we will have to examine how best to balance the long term needs of the unit’s objectives with the existing set of instruments. ETAP will be a main motivating force and we will be launching a stakeholder consultation next year to examine the action plan contents. Outcomes of this will ultimately influence any modifications to the LIFE Environment unit’s activities”

Achieving economies of scale is a core objective for all organisations and Mr Martin feels that scope exists to see how these could be improved in the new unit. He underlines the work mentioned previously regarding streamlining procedures for NGO support and is conscious about duplication risks between LIFE Environment and Eco Innovation remits. “We will be looking at pilot projects to optimise our efficiency and these will feed into the new proposals that will be prepared during 2011 as part of the planning for a new financial period after 2013”.

“We should also be looking to consider how best to extend our gap-bridging functions by linking our project actions with colleagues from the other Commission Services. DG Enterprise for example will be able to pick up on more results that emerge from the Eco-innovation project work, since SMEs should still remain the main beneficiaries here. Our work could also inform and influence policy initiatives being progressed in the Council, or in the Parliament, but for this to happen we need to be more proactive in the future by developing a presence to find out where our work fits well”.

Another important factor that will influence future LIFE Environment directions is the LIFE + regulation’s mid-term review report that will be produced by September 2010.

Longer term horizons

Looking to the longer term, Hervé Martin sees signs that may result in further reshuffles and reorganisations within the unit. “I wonder if in the future, once all Community actions in the field of environmental activity will be in place, whether there will still be room for an ambitious financial instrument to accompany the policies. That is of course linked to the future financing but for us it’s an issue that could be examined as part of the impact assessment that will be launched in 2010”.

“I think that step by step LIFE Environment may not exist anymore as such in the long term. I see a delegation of the money to an agency and I see a more innovative profile, with dedicated logistical support based around defined pillars. Pillars could concentrate heavily on the likes of Eco innovation, but retain a sizeable stake in policy fields. Also, our current set up means that the unit itself is somewhat detached from the actual projects’ activities. Finding ways to strengthen linkages between project level actions and the policy development process will be an important task for the unit’s future”.

Summing up, the Head of Unit at LIFE Environment sees a bright future for his unit’s role in bridge-gapping between Eco innovation actions in Member States and environmental policy arenas at both national and EU levels. “Eco innovation will be a high priority for 2010 and NGO support will be closer aligned in the governance side to supporting Commission activities. LIFE Environment in the middle will be either closer to environmental policies or possibly disappear.”

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