Fellow panellists, distinguished Members, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the conference.
I walked here this morning. Many of you probably did the same, and if you did, you braved the roar of the Rue de la Loi. 5 lanes of one way traffic in the middle of a modern city. You can see the people walking along this street – hunched against the constant din. It is a perfect example of the challenge of noise.
But let me balance that negative image of Rue de la Loi, with an initiative that those of you who live here in Brussels will be familiar with. That is No Car Day.
Every year on No Car Day the comment is the same – "I like the sound of the city". You can hear horse hooves, bicycles and rollerblades on the tarmac. Looking around you also see something that may not be a scientific observation, but is still important: people are smiling. Families are laughing together. Overall the soundscape is so much more positive.
And that is our challenge today. How do we move from a wall of negative decibels to a melody of natural noise. Easier said than done, particularly as the economic realities of everyday life compel us to get from A to B a.s.a.p..
We're here this morning to talk about some very serious issues, and their effects on our health. We'll be looking at the root causes; at what can be done at the European level; and the progress that's being made.
Let's be clear about one thing from the outset. Today isn't really about EU legislation. Today is more about the very real problems for millions of citizens. Problems like the sound of the Rue de la Loi you heard this morning.
Noise is bad for you. People have always known this. If you look it up in the dictionary, you find that the word "noise" has the same root as "nausea."
Trams, low-flying aeroplanes, the constant hum from traffic don't just disturb our sleep. As we saw in the film, they raise our blood pressure and cause long-term damage. Our bodies were not designed to deal with these constant tensions.
Today we are looking for ways to solve that problem. It's great to see the World Health Organisation providing robust analysis of the health impacts of noise, and I look forward to hearing more from their Europe Director Zsuzsanna Jakab, who will be presenting the results of their work over recent years.
We'll also be hearing from Hans Bruyninckx, the Director of the European Environment Agency, who will update us with the latest information on the noise exposure of European citizens.
The 7th Environment Action Programme contains the clear goal of significantly decreasing noise pollution; bringing it ever closer to recommended levels.
I say "ever closer to" those levels, because, to be frank, we still have a long way to go. But we are starting from solid ground, and we have most of the tools we need.
The Noise Directive is sound legislation… Sorry, that was a bad pun. Perhaps better to say in the European jargon that it is "fit for purpose".
That was the result of the Commission's thorough fitness check, part of the Commission's ongoing examination of major legislation. It's sound, but it isn't yet delivering as it should, mainly because of delays in its implementation. As the public consultation made clear, that is also the view of Europe's citizens.
So we need to do more on implementation. The Commission can help, and we will be reaching out to the Member States if they need more support. Perhaps you've heard of a new Commission mechanism that we have designed to do exactly that. It is called the Environmental Implementation Review and it sets out to identify the causes of implementation gaps, then to bring together Member States in an open exchange. As well as pinpointing causes, it also aims to find solutions, and helps Member States to work together.
We will also continue to provide support through research and innovation policy. One example is the Clean Sky initiative, which aims to reduce noise levels, from aircraft and other sources.
We'll also be reaching out to local authorities, which often need more capacity when comes to planning health and wellbeing objectives.
This is particularly true in cities, as noise is predominantly an urban issue.
There is more help on the way here as well. The EU's new Urban Agenda provides modern tools to that will improve the reduction of excessive noise.
This Urban Agenda grew out of the Pact of Amsterdam, and it is part of our efforts to ensure that EU policies do a better job at reflecting the urban dimension of modern living. This can take many forms, from ensuring equitable access to open green spaces, to sustainable urban mobility.
The Urban Mobility Partnerships bring different partners together at all levels, from the EU, to Member State, to city level, to ensure that the resulting strategies are integrated and effective. This coordination is vital when it comes to reducing noise. I am very pleased that my colleague Violetta Bulc – European Commissioner for Transport - is joining us today, because transport is huge factor when it comes to noise.
Violeta will show us how the negative impacts are being addressed, and showcase good examples of cooperation and proactive measures to get these problems under control.
In terms of ongoing initiatives, I should also mention our European Innovation Partnership on "Smart Cities and Communities", which is facilitating the development of strategic partnerships. Smart cities are the cities of tomorrow, and if we want them to be good places to live, they will have to be much quieter than many of Europe's urban centres today.
Ladies and gentlemen, that brings me to my last point.
We know that green spaces are good for our health. The Japanese talk of "forest bathing", to convey the all-round beneficial effects of a walk in the woods. We go to those woods not just to look at nature, but to listen to it too. We are calmed by a natural sound-scape, one that is unmarked by passing planes or the roar of cars.
I am sure you know what I mean. When you walk through a city on car-free day, you get a real sense of bliss. All you see is relaxed families with happy faces.
We need to bring that calm back to our urban areas; and today is your chance to help do that. European noise policy is looking to the future. Today you can help shape it, and give it direction as we follow up on the Implementation Report of the Noise legislation.
The discussions won't stop here, and there is much work ahead. But let's make the most of this momentum, and influence the process at the planning stage.
In a calm manner, of course.
Check against delivery