The proposal of the new LIFE regulation was an “important step”, according to Hervé Martin, Head of the LIFE Environment and Eco-Innovation Unit. The new regulation increases the amount of funding for the programme and introduces a new climate change aspect.
Mr Martin, however, says that the Unit will not be advising stakeholders to apply and prepare themselves for the next programme in a new way. “I think that we will still keep the traditional projects – so not so much innovation there,” he says.
This year the Unit will again aim to publish the call sufficiently early in the year to limit the time between its publication and the start of the contract. But Mr Martin admits that it is difficult to reduce the time period to less than eight months.
The priority of the programme for 2012 will be water. “We adapt every year the Guidelines for applicants to highlight the political priorities. Next year will be water, the year after will be air and waste,” Mr Martin says.
He is eager to emphasise that his Unit will “try to be very strict and very precise” in regards to the implementation of the programme. The Guidelines will also be adapted, says Mr Martin, “to give applicants the possibility to prepare for "integrated projects" and not prevent them from applying to different stop shops”.
The LIFE Programme is currently facilitating the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, and Mr Martin concedes that “a lot has to be done by Member States to comply with the directive”. One aspect, in particular, is the requirement to produce river basin management plans. “We tried to design the call so that the good and valid solutions found or produced by the applicants might be used by us to implement the legislation and provide examples to Member States on this implementation,” Mr Martin says.
The LIFE programme has also a role to play in policy making. “We try to extract from the LIFE projects good solutions for Member States, as well as to extract data for policy.”
The next call for proposals also foresees stronger partnerships with the private sector. “That is new in the next call; we highlight the importance for applicants to apply green public procurement and to make private/public partnerships. For the time being, we have some experience on the biodiversity side and it worked,” he says.
An innovation for the future LIFE programme [2014-2020] is the introduction of "integrated projects", which Mr Martin describes as “ambitious projects” that aim at implementing in a sustainable manner, on a large territorial scale, environmental or climate strategies or action plans required by specific legislation (such as the river basin management plans). The Commission will contribute on an average €10 million to their funding. “Integrated projects are like traditional projects but bigger and closer to policies. Applicants will have to demonstrate that they are using other funds – such as the EU Cohesion and agricultural funds - to achieve environmental objectives.”
These projects will focus on the compliance, promotion and implementation of legislation. “For that, there is really a need for a good project design because the applicant will have to make sure that the priorities of the application are really in line with the priorities of the Commission.”
Mr Martin believes that LIFE can function as a “catalyst” for ensuring this convergence of funds towards a common priority, such as the implementation of a river basin management plan or a waste management plan for a city or a region. Integrated projects will be included in the next financial perspective and will start with a “low profile” with the expectation that they will grow in the next seven years. However, Mr Martin says that “we don’t know at this stage whether we will trigger interest”.
Integrated projects will focus on several environment priorities and this is “really something new”, according to Mr Martin. “Normally we fund bottom-up projects providing good environmental and climate change solutions. But the applicant for an integrated project will have to comply with the priorities and to rely on national policies, and also to design the project in a greater scale.”
NGOs have a useful role to play in overseeing how the legislation is implemented in Member States and the funding of NGOs will be increased, according to Mr Martin. “We have now a budget of €9 million a year; we will gradually reach 13 million because we have political instructions. The Commissioner [Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the environment] is keen to support NGOs to facilitate governance, which is good for policymakers,” he says.
The Commission, however, will be stricter in its assessments of their achievements. “We select NGOs on the basis of their work programme. And for that we will be more careful to check whether the work programme is really useful in terms of assessing the situation and giving some input to us. We will try to achieve a distribution of funds across a broad set of different NGOs, including new NGOs.”
In the last funding round, the Unit tried to find convergence between eco-innovation and LIFE Environment. For the next financial period, “innovation will be dealt within the context of Horizon 2020 and no more under the environment and governance section of the new LIFE and climate funding programme,” he says.
The recently adopted Eco-innovation Action Plan needs to be reviewed to make sure it’s not creating any barriers, “particularly in the field of emissions, where we realise that standards are relatively old now – we have to make sure that things have been done to trigger eco-innovation.”
Looking ahead to the priorities of 2012, the Commission will also try to set up networks and contacts in order to be prepared for the next Regulation. Moreover, it will hold many events and conferences over the coming 12 months to highlight the successes of LIFE. “LIFE is a very useful instrument. For instance, the car-free days in Europe started from a LIFE project. We will try to highlight LIFE successes to show that with a small instrument we were able to mobilise Europe wide.”
Mr Martin points in particular to the impact of the eco-innovation programme on SMEs. “We have very good solutions and the goal of the 20th anniversary will be to put them in the spotlight.”