Madam Chair, Honourable Members, a very good afternoon to you all.
Since our last structured dialogue meeting on 9th March last year, we continued to do a lot of work together. Finalising legislation like the Mercury Regulation, the RoHS Directive and of course the waste package, to which the EP plenary will give its final seal in April. These waste rules will reinforce the EU's position as a major front-runner in waste management and recycling. All good examples of our very fruitful collaboration.
Today I’d like to look at a slightly bigger picture. The first time I came here, three and a half years ago, I set out three priorities:
- Our contribution to jobs through green and blue growth;
- Reconnecting with citizens and improving their quality of life; and
- "Making it happen" through better implementation.
I’m happy to say that the Commission, with your help, is delivering on all three of them, leaving Europe’s environment in a significantly better state by the close of our term.
My first priority, in line with the priorities of the whole Commission, has been green and blue growth, and delivering a more circular economy.
A lot of progress here. There is a broad consensus that the 2015 Circular Economy Action Plan is now mainstreaming circular economy thinking in policy discussions and in policymaking. We have delivered more than 80% of the 54 actions in the Circular Economy Action Plan, and the Package we adopted in January is another important step in the transition process.
Without repeating what Vice-President Katainen said in February, I would just recall that the Plastics Strategy presents a vision for a smart, innovative and sustainable plastics industry, with reuse and recycling fully integrated into design and production.
The jobs and growth opportunities are very clear, for European recyclers. There is huge potential for turning plastic waste into new products and materials, here in Europe. Making all plastic packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030, is one way of improving the economics and quality of plastic recycling, and transforming opportunities into realities.
We are also setting up instruments to drive investments and innovation towards closing the knowledge gap, and developing innovative solutions for recycling. All good for EU growth.
Looking ahead for a moment, let’s remember that single-use plastic items are a major source of plastic leakage into the environment, and they account for 50% of beach litter. We need to address the issue head-on, and so, we are working hard on a proposal on single-use plastics and on fishing gear to be delivered in May.
In addition, the Monitoring Framework and the work on the Interface between Chemicals, Products and Waste Legislations will help keep the circular economy momentum going.
Circular economy approaches are increasingly recognised outside the EU. We really need a global transition to the circular economy model, and the EU is playing an important role in supporting the transition in third countries. A global transition to circular economy will also help to implement the 2030 Agenda and to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.
The G7 Summit later this year will discuss how to make the plastics sector more "circular" and prevent plastic littering the oceans. A 'G7 Plastics Charter' would contribute to better plastic production, consumption and disposal, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 12 and the EU Plastics Strategy. Both support the implementation of SDG 14 on oceans. And I am particularly happy that - for the first time - oceans themselves will figure prominently on the agenda of the G7.
This will help us in the follow up to the hugely successful our ocean conference in October 2017. That conference helped us continue to develop the European global leadership on the ocean.
Yesterday I was on the Belgian coast for a beach clean-up with hundreds of European Commission and parliament staff. In the items collected, the prevalence of single use plastics and of waste fishing gear was notable and this demonstrates that work needs to be done to protect our seas and oceans.
Last year we had two high-profile ocean events. After a very productive UN Conference on SDG 14 in June, the EU hosted in Malta the Our Ocean conference last October, with quite unprecedented results. Nearly 450 tangible and measurable commitments, more than seven billions euros in financial pledges, and 2.5 million square kilometres of additional Marine Protected Areas.
My second priority from the outset has been reconnecting Europe with citizens, and improving their quality of life.
This is why I have put so much effort into improving Europe’s air quality. We all know about the danger that poor air quality presents to human health. Full implementation of the 2016 National Emissions Ceiling Directive and the others air-related legislation, including the Medium Combustion Plants Directive, will make a tremendous difference. In fact they will more than halve the negative health impacts of air pollution by 2030.
But 2030 is too late for the 400,000 people who die prematurely in Europe each year because of poor air quality, and for the millions who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases.
So we have stepped up action, asking Member States to deliver clean air now and not in 10 years’ time. The Clean Air Dialogues are helping Member States to learn and share good practice with measures that have been tried and tested.
More efforts are however required. Far too many areas in Europe still face unacceptable exceedances of air quality standards. And when Member States fail to take the necessary measures to keep these exceedances as low and as short as possible, we have to take action. This is the role of our infringement process.And the Commission has been very clear about this: Where the necessary additional credible, timely and effective measures have not been taken, following the Air Quality Ministerial Meeting I had organised on 30 January, we will go ahead and refer these Member States to the Court.
Now that the thorough analysis of all the contributions has been concluded, as promised by mid-March, I can tell you that I will indeed propose to the College to proceed with a number of these cases as part of the Commission's next infringement cycle, end of April.
I would like to thank those colleagues in the services who have worked so hard over the last month to assess those submissions. Their dedication to citizens' needs is admirable.
Moving on to water, protecting this resource has also been high on my agenda. The Drinking Water proposal adopted in January will improve quality, protect consumers from potential future health risks and improve access to water for all.
The proposal includes a provision to grant access to water for vulnerable population groups, completing the Commission's response to the first-ever successful citizens' initiative on the Right2Water.
Water re-use is an increasingly powerful tool to address water scarcity, and we are looking to develop a number of actions to promote further uptake at EU level. The focus will be on overcoming the main barriers to more water reuse, wherever it is cost-efficient and safe. A legislative proposal for reuse in agricultural irrigation is being developed and will be adopted in the coming weeks.
In terms of quality of life, REACH has made an enormous difference over the past decade. This legislation has actually changed the way Europe thinks about chemicals, and we mustn’t lose sight of that. The recent Review confirms that after 10 years of operation, REACH has significantly improved the protection of human health and the environment.
It has also promoted alternatives to animal testing and ensured the free movement of chemicals on the EU single market. REACH is fully operational and it is delivering on its objectives.
There are countless impacts on everyday life, from glassmakers in Venice who are now protected from the harmful effects of Arsenic trioxide, to people with chromium allergies, whose lives are improved by the restrictions on chromium VI in leather goods.
But of course there is always room for improvement. There are data gaps in registration dossiers to be filled, we need a level playing field between EU and non-EU companies, we need a simpler authorisation process, an enhanced enforcement, and more support to help SMEs comply.
But not all these things can be done by the Commission. I look to the Member State for more engagement, and adequate resources to deliver on these improvements.
Nature has always been one of the best ways for Europe to connect with citizens, and Natura 2000 is a great example of EU added value. Without nature we have no quality of life at all, so I’m pleased to report good progress here.
The Action Plan for nature, people and the economy adopted last April is delivering on all four of its priorities; on guidance, dialogue & compliance, investment and outreach.
Several new guidance documents will be published shortly, LIFE funding dedicated to nature conservation and biodiversity has been increased by 10%, and European Natura 2000 Day, on the 21st May, grows bigger with each edition.
But here again there is no room for complacency. 2020 is around the corner and we need to do more to achieve our biodiversity targets. A major challenge is the alarming decline of pollinators. This requires urgent and decisive action, and we will respond soon with an initiative to address this problem, in line with what this Parliament has called for.
The EU is also leading the way on protecting biodiversity beyond national borders through the BBNJ negotiation at the United Nations negotiations this year. BBNJ is a key global ocean governance instrument aiming at implementing and strengthening UNCLOS in order to address the specific needs of the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.
[Green Week 2018 – Urban agenda]
Urban environments face major environmental challenges, from air quality and noise to waste and water management. Cities and citizens need to be at the forefront of the solution to all environmental challenges.
Connecting with citizens through our urban agenda is the reason we promote an EU Green Week, and the 2018 edition will highlight how EU policies are supporting cities.
We are in regular contacts with city representatives through the Committee of the Regions and the Covenant of Mayors, and the EU Urban Agenda launched in May 2016 is an important tool for mainstreaming sustainability into the discussions on future urban development.
In parallel, we also sustain the important role for our Green Capital and Green Leaf awards, to promote more sustainable urban planning.
[Making it happen]
The third priority is the objective of “making it happen”.
It’s always been clear to me that policies and legislation only become real on the ground. They have to work in practice, and that’s why we’ve been working so hard to make them realistic and to improve their practicability.
One of the new tools we have developed with this in mind is the Environmental Implementation Review, which we launched last year. It has a two-year cycle, and we are already working on the country reports for the second cycle in 2019, to be adopted in 12 months’ time. Our intention is to add three new themes: climate change, chemicals and industrial emissions.
We are also taking further steps to tackle a root cause of weak implementation mentioned in the EIR reports, namely poor compliance assurance and governance mechanisms.
The Action Plan on Environmental Compliance Assurance and Governance will help Member States with the practical aspects of compliance assurance. It includes, for example, new guidance on strategies to combat environmental crime.
Making things happen sometimes requires considerable resources, and that includes financial resources. This is particularly important in the context of the on-going discussions on the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think of this as another area where we can work together closely to exert some useful pressure. Transforming the financial framework is a large-scale undertaking, and I need your support to help redirect capital towards sustainable activities.
The Commission adopted an EU Action Plan on Sustainable Finance on 7 March, which foresees a Regulation on the high-level principles for a taxonomy or classification system for sustainable finance.
One possibility is to use the EU Ecolabel framework for a labelling scheme for certain financial products. This would give an assurance that investments are made in line with environmental and social considerations. I will keep you updated on progress here.
Turning to the future funds, although the final architecture is not decided, we are looking into a continuation of the present approach, and integrating environmental objectives into all relevant major EU funds.
Your report on the 7th Environmental Action Programme rightly pointed out some shortcomings in these current practices. I fully agree with the need for better policy coherence and increased integration of environmental objectives into other policies.
This is particularly important for the Common Agricultural Policy, which needs to do more for water, nature and biodiversity. In its current form the policy is not delivering as expected, despite the significant funding dedicated to greening. This has also been confirmed by the European Court of Auditors, so I am pressing strongly to rectify this in the context of our upcoming proposals.
The Commission is also preparing a proposal for the post 2020 LIFE programme to reinforce its role in ensuring environmental integration. This could come, for example, through strategic integrated projects that leverage funding from the CAP and Regional policy funds, bolstering the delivery of plans and programmes under EU legislation for air, water, waste and nature. I welcome the strong support from the European Parliament on this essential programme.
Overall, the 7th EAP does continue to serve a very useful purpose. We are now working on an evaluation of the whole programme, and I envisage wide consultation with all stakeholders. I welcome your support on this, and I look forward to the adoption of the report in plenary.
Equally, I count on your full support that all the legislative proposals we have presented - or will present in the coming weeks – will be swiftly dealt with by the Committee so that ideally work on those can be concluded before the Parliament's current term.
Let me conclude by thanking you for listening. I have spoken for slightly longer than normal, but I wanted to give a thorough overview of what has been a very packed twelve months. Nevertheless, I could not mention everything we have been and will be doing over the next months. But, of course, that does not mean that these issues are not important and I am of course interested to hear about your priorities as well.
My thanks also for the continued good relations we have enjoyed over this period, and the constantly constructive atmosphere.
I look forward to your reactions and your questions.
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