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Addressing soil quality issues in the EU

In September 2006 the Commission adopted a Soil Thematic Strategy including a proposal for a Soil Framework Directive. This originated from the need to ensure a sustainable use of soils and protect their function in a comprehensive manner in a context of increasing pressure and degradation of soils across the EU.

Taking note that the proposal has been pending for almost eight years without a qualified majority in the Council in its favour, the Commission on 30 April 2014 took the decision to withdraw the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive, opening the way for an alternative initiative in the next mandate. Such decision entered into force on 21 May 2014 upon publication on the Official Journal (see OJ C 153 of 21 May 2014 and corrigendum in OJ C 163 of 28 May 2014). In withdrawing the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive, the Commission indicated that "The Commission remains committed to the objective of the protection of soil and will examine options on how to best achieve this. Any further initiative in this respect will however have to be considered by the next college".

The commitment to sustainable soil use is in line with the Seventh Environment Action Programme, (7th EAP) which provides that by 2020 "land is managed sustainably in the Union, soil is adequately protected and the remediation of contaminated sites is well underway" and commits the EU and its Member States to "increasing efforts to reduce soil erosion and increase organic matter, to remediate contaminated sites and to enhance the integration of land use aspects into coordinated decision-making involving all relevant levels of government, supported by the adoption of targets on soil and on land as a resource, and land planning objectives". It also states that "The Union and its Member States should also reflect as soon as possible on how soil quality issues could be addressed using a targeted and proportionate risk-based approach within a binding legal framework".

Against that background, two initiatives have been launched:

  • Establishment of an Expert Group to implement the soil protection provisions of the 7th Environment Action Programme, composed by experts mandated by Member States to support the Commission in this work.
  • Open Call for tender for a service contract to deliver an updated  and detailed picture of policies and measures at EU, Member State and - where applicable - regional level, contributing (directly or indirectly) to soil protection.

The proposal for a Soil Framework Directive

The proposal for a Soil Framework Directive The proposal for a Soil Framework Directive was subject to the co-decision procedure in accordance with Article 294 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This means that both the European Parliament and the Council had to agree on a common text on the basis of a proposal from the Commission and taking into account the opinions of the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee:

  • The European Parliament adopted its first-reading opinion on 14 November 2007 (OJ C 282 E, 6.11.2008, p.281) (Rapporteur: Mrs Cristina Gutiérrez-Cortines).
  • The Committee of the Regions delivered its opinion on 13 February (OJ C 146, 30.6.2007, p. 34) (Rapporteur: Mr Cor Lamers).
  • The Economic and Social Committee delivered its opinion on 25 April 2007 (OJ C 168, 20.7.2007, p. 29) (Rapporteur Mr Staffan Nilsson).
  • In Council, the proposal was repeatedly discussed but always ran into a blocking minority.

The texts of the above-mentioned documents are available in all official languages in the Pre-Lex database. Council documents relative to the proposal are available here.

In October 2013 the Commission adopted the Communication on "Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT): Results and Next Steps"(COM(2013) 685 and its Annex) in which it noted that the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive had been pending for eight years during which time no effective action has resulted. The Commission would therefore examine carefully whether the objective of the proposal, to which the Commission remains committed, would be best served by maintaining the proposal or by withdrawing it, thus opening the way for an alternative initiative in the next mandate. This would have been judged on the feasibility of reaching adoption before the European Parliament elections of May 2014.

A possible way forward on soil protection at EU level was discussed over lunch during the Environment Council meeting under Greek Presidency on 3 March 2014 (see the background document prepared by the Presidency). The debate indicated that protecting soils remained an important objective for the Union, despite the fact that, in its present format, the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive could not be agreed by a qualified majority.