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Applying EU law

Environmental challenges like clean air and water are not confined by borders, so it makes sense to apply Europe-wide laws – the EU now sets many of the standards Member States adhere to.

Europe-wide legislation has many advantages in an area like the environment. The river Danube, for instance, flows through 10 different countries – so it makes sense for countries to agree on common standards. Wherever you are in Europe, you can be sure that a large proportion of your country's environmental laws can be traced back to European legislation.

Europe's 200 or so environmental laws now cover most eventualities. The air quality directive sets limits for many pollutants and particles, forcing authorities to take action if limits are exceeded. The urban waste water treatment directive obliges governments to set up systems to collect and purify wastewater and sewage, and the REACH chemicals legislation obliges manufacturers to demonstrate that their chemical products are safe.

Most of the legislation we need to keep our environment safe is now in place. The next challenge is to see it is put into practice on the ground. One of the tasks of the European Commission is to see that these laws are respected.

Implementing EU environment law almost always saves money in the longer term. But failing to implement these laws can be bad for human health, the environment and the industries we depend on. And very often, it means that someone else has to pay the price.

Surveys show that a vast majority of people favour having the same environmental laws for the whole of the EU. The standards are high, and when countries apply to join the EU, bringing environmental laws into line with EU norms is sometimes challenging. But it's an essential part of the accession process, as we share a single market with shared common standards, with advantages for all.