I am very proud that the EU has probably one of the most ambitious environmental policies in the world. We have all worked very hard over the years to accomplish this and our challenge now is to work hard on the implementation of these policies.
In order to overcome existing implementation problems the concerted action of all actors at political and technical levels is indispensible.
This is why the Commission adopted on 3 February the Environmental Implementation Review or "EIR", a new tool to address implementation challenges on EU environmental policy and law, to support Member States in their efforts to improve the application of our common rules.
Due to its utmost relevance to regional and local authorities allow me to give you a short introduction on EIR.
The EIR is a bi-annual process composed of three phases: analysis, dialogue and action on the ground.
We have just finished the first phase; the analysis. As you have probably seen by now, the EIR package includes 28 country reports. They provide, for the very first time, a complete snapshot of the state of implementation of environmental policy and law in each Member State to national authorities, regions, cities, citizens and stakeholders. The reports also describe solid and successful practices.
The key findings of the 28 reports were compiled in a chapeau communication. It also summarises the concrete actions we recommend to each individual Member State to improve environmental implementation.
One novelty of the EIR which I expect to be of particular interest to you is that, also for the first time, we present the preliminary findings on common underlying root causes of poor implementation, including governance issues.
Now that we have finished this first phase of the EIR, the analysis, we can turn to its two other phases, dialogue and action on the ground.
We must work together across policy areas to examine connected issues as a whole. The EIR offers a collaborative approach across sectors and beyond the environmental policy community. For example, water quality, nature protection and food production are strongly interrelated since improving ground water quality requires out-of-the-box-thinking of all actors involved.
To put these ideas into practice, we have already started structured implementation dialogues with interested Member States, involving stakeholders from different sectors and different levels of administration.
The first countries to organise national EIR dialogues were Estonia, Belgium and Slovakia. The meetings were very successful not only in terms of the high-level political participation and the involvement of other ministries and decentralised government and stakeholders, but also in terms of the quality of the discussion and promising follow-up.
In Estonia, the focus was on eco-innovation. Municipality-led initiatives were showcased and it was discussed what kind of change in thinking and practice is needed to encourage eco-innovation. In addition, recent decisions taken against the background of the analysis in the EIR, for example on the introduction of a new vehicle registration tax, were announced.
The dialogue in Belgium addressed traffic congestion in relation to air pollution, where all actors agreed that the situation requires that, at very short notice, a dedicated package of measures should be adopted. The second topic was compliance assurance, discussed in all its dimensions. The EIR report was considered an example of good governance, which would help changing mentality and motivating citizens.
The meeting in Slovakia was also very fruitful and intense, with the public expressing great interest in air issues, in reducing environmentally-harmful subsidies, and in the improved management of water resources
I am pleased that in all three country dialogues other Member States were invited as observers. This shows the beginning of a peer support culture which is essential to improve implementation. To further strengthen this culture, the Commission will launch a dedicated peer-to-peer tool to financially support Member States and their regional and local environmental authorities, to exchange successful practices and learn from each other.
For the EIR process to succeed it needs to be inclusive. Most environmental policies and laws are implemented by regions and cities as they usually know best what is causing poor implementation, and how to overcome it. This knowledge, and their ideas for solutions, is essential to complement the work of the responsible national authorities in the Member States and at EU level.
I am therefore pleased that you are preparing an Opinion on the EIR, and I am looking forward to hearing your ideas especially as regards overcoming the six root causes identified. They are the following:
(1) improve policy coordination,
(2) strengthen administrative capacity,
(3) make better use of EU funding,
(4) improve policy integration and coherence,
(5) increase the quality of knowledge and data, and
(6) improve compliance assurance
The Commission is well aware that most of these issues fall under the exclusive competence of Member States and that many improvements can be implemented at local, regional or national level, and therefore do not require EU intervention. However, we believe that the Commission has a role to play, by stimulating and supporting local, regional and national efforts to address the root causes of environmental implementation gaps.
I would appreciate if you could encourage regions and cities to actively participate in national implementation dialogues being organised this year. Further information about these meetings, and all EIR documents, will be available on the EIR website of the Commission.
We are working on other initiatives on better implementation. In partnership with Member States, we seek to improve implementation and compliance through the streamlining of monitoring and reporting and two compliance initiatives, one on access to justice and one on environmental compliance assurance.
In addition, we will adopt several communications: one outlining how the burden of environmental monitoring and reporting will be further reduced, one aimed to contribute to the improvement of access to justice in environmental matters in national courts, and one aimed to shape a common EU concept on compliance assurance.
Lastly, the EIR stimulates cross-sectoral, cross-border and multi-level implementation actions on all environmental themes. Allow me to give you the example of the implementation of our marine environmental legislation. Here, a regional approach is central, notably through the Regional Sea Conventions. Human pressures and impacts on the marine environment rarely confine themselves to one single Member States' marine waters - take eutrophication in the Baltic Sea or fishing and marine litter in practically all other marine environments as examples.
An informal ministerial at the end of this month will give us the opportunity to discuss two such issues that know no borders - marine litter and the relevance of the environment-climate change interface on our seas and oceans.
I have highly appreciated the cooperation with your Committee on the EIR, which started last year with a seminar on 13 September. I am looking forward to continuing this extremely fruitful cooperation. The next concrete step will be the co-organisation of the launching of the EIR peer-to-peer tool, hopefully by this autumn.
I count on your support to make this a joint success story.
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