Back in September 2014, I was privileged to be given the newly merged portfolios of Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, by President Jean-Claude Juncker.
This 'blue-green portfolio' presented big challenges. From a strategic perspective, however, it makes perfect sense.
We cannot seriously address our planet's environmental issues without putting the oceans front and centre. Nor can we seriously address ocean pollution or the fall in marine life without looking at our production and consumption behaviour on land. Blue and Green go together, just like on our planet.
On 1 November 2014 I set out to tackle tasks as assigned by the President. Now, as I approach the half-way point of my mandate, I would like to use this blog to point out the substantial progress we have made.
Before doing so I want to make two points. Firstly I wish to thank the President for his foresight. By identifying the priorities in the mission letter, he gave much needed political support and coverage to our work.
Secondly I want to make one thing absolutely clear. While I think we have achieved already a lot, our work is in full swing: success breeds success. Thankfully the progress we have made means that new paths of action have opened.
A quick recap of our achievements.
One of the biggest steps we have taken is on the Circular Economy Package. Launched on 2 December 2015 this proposal covers the full lifecycle: from extraction to production, and from consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials. My colleagues First Vice-President Timmermans and Vice-President Katainen were instrumental in bringing this to the table.
One of the elements that President Juncker emphasised was the need for our actions on the circular economy to be 'consistent with our jobs and growth agenda'.
2017 will prove a busy year in underlining this link. At the end of May, our Green Week theme is 'Green Jobs for a Greener Future'. This will highlight the job creation capacity of our Circular Economy approach. Over the course of 2017 we will continue to deliver on our Circular Economy Action plan. We will address waste to energy, make proposals on water reuse and, later in the year, we will unveil our plastics strategy.
A second priority was to engage in shaping international ocean governance.On 10 November 2016 we published our Communication on International ocean governance. This set out 14 actions in the area of ocean rules, data and sustainable growth. These will demonstrate and effective EU approach to achieving the global Sustainable Development goal to "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources" (SDG14). The support of High Representative Mogherini has been central to the progress we have made.
I am delighted to say that our international activities have secured us the 'Our Ocean' conference which will take place in Malta in October 2017. This is the world's leading ocean event and will allow us to make real progress on our 14 priorities.
A third area is one that generated a huge amount of citizen engagement – in itself a major success. That is of course the fitness check on the Birds and Habitats Directives. Our 16 December announcement that the directives were fit for purpose came after a most rigorous assessment.
Now we can focus on improving implementation in the Natura 2000 sites that make up 20% of EU area, and beyond. In this we will be helped by the new EU solidarity corps which will allow young people to gain invaluable onsite experience, including in working on environmental projects. We will publish an action plan in the spring that will look at how we can improve implementation and make a difference for nature, people and the economy. A special focus in this will be how to better involve our regions and other stakeholders.
The question of air pollution was rightly identified as another of the five priorities. After a successful agreement on emission standards for medium-sized combustion plants in 2015, the National Emissions Ceilings Directive was voted through by the EU Council and European Parliament in 2016. This establishes targets for pollutants which will, if successfully implemented in the Member States, reduce by almost 50% the negative health impacts of air pollution, such as respiratory diseases and premature death, by 2030.
Lastly, President Juncker asked me to look at the commitments to sustainable fishing made under the reformed Common Fisheries Policy. Our last negotiation session in the Fisheries Council of Ministers shows that we are on track for our targets in 2020. We have also shown our capacity for global leadership in the fight against illegal fishing.
On the circular economy, on air quality, on nature, on sustainable fishing and on oceans we have made real progress. The work continues, and as we move to a comprehensive implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, we seek to integrate these individual policies into the wider and medium term perspective of the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals. This means applying the three principles of universality, integration and inclusivity, with the environmental dimension at its core.
As ever, we have got this far only because of the tireless dedication of colleagues in the Commission. Their drive and their ability to turn strategic vision into reachable goals are commendable.
But our path thus far is also due to those in the European Parliament and the Council who 'get' the concept of the environment, maritime and fisheries and the economy working hand in hand.
Above all I would like to thank EU citizens for their continued trust in the EU to do its job for the environment, for sustainable fisheries, for clean oceans. Our citizens provide the motivation. Thanks to you for your continued engagement and involvement.
As our Environmental Implementation Review in February will show, one secret to success is Member States working together to effectively implement what we have all agreed should be our priority objectives, seeing the economic benefit of sustainable policies, and taking the hard decisions on behalf of Europe's next generations.
As we push on for the next part of our mandate, let's remember, on the environment we are literally all in it together.