Commission withdraws environmental proposals

The European Commission has announced the withdrawal of its proposal for a Soil Framework Directive and for a directive on access to justice in environmental matters, which would have transcribed the third pillar of the Aarhus Convention into European law.

The decision was praised by the UK Government, which has consistently opposed implementation of a soil directive, while environmental lobby group the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said the decision sent a ‘bad signal’ about EU priorities and showed ‘a disturbing lack of vision’.

The possibility of scrapping the soil directive has been bandied around for some time, as the proposal has been consistently blocked by a number of EU member states including the UK for nearly a decade.

A Defra spokesperson told edie: “We support the protection of Europe’s soils and already have policies in place for the sustainable management of soils in England.

“However, the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive would have imposed significant regulatory burdens and costs on businesses – including the farming community – and other member states.”

David Rudland, chair of Environmental Protection UK’s land quality committee, said: “I’m not surprised that the draft directive has been withdrawn as there have been rumours about its demise circulating for some time. Opposition from some of the blocking nations such as UK remained strong and there seems to have been no great appetite recently among EU chair nations to take this forward.

“Although I can understand concern about the loss of the soil erosion provisions of the draft directive, the contamination provisions these were looking to be very expensive for the UK, and quite a burden for the regulator as UK already has a well-developed regime of its own, albeit with very limited funding for investigation and remediation.

“That might have been a positive point – the draft directive’s requirements were so prescriptive that the UK government would almost certainly have been obliged to provide far more funding for the EU regime than it currently does for the UK one and would have pushed contaminated land back up the priority list once again.

“It remains to be seen if we will see a redrafted directive or some other announcement on the direction of future of soils policy.”

Lack of vision

However, the EEB, a federation of more than 140 environmental organisations from all 27 EU member states, criticised the Commission’s decision, saying it sent a bad signal as to Europe’s priorities.

The EEB said the formal withdrawal of the 2003 proposal for a directive on access to justice ‘underlines the urgent need for the Commission to speed up its work on a new legislative proposal in this area’.

EEB secretary general Jeremy Wates continued: “A new legislative proposal in this area is urgently needed; not only to create a more democratic Europe, not only to improve the implementation of environmental law, not only to create a more level playing field for business but also in order to ensure that the EU is fully in compliance with its obligations under international law, namely the Aarhus Convention.”

An EEB statement concluded: “The withdrawal of the soil directive after almost 10 years of being blocked by a handful of member states reveals a disturbing lack of vision and understanding of the importance of European soils, which poses a direct threat to our food security and limits our ability to tackle climate change and prevent the loss of biodiversity.

“The Commission should swiftly come forward with new proposals in these areas and show that Europe is serious about guaranteeing citizens’ rights and protecting crucial natural resources.”

Rob Bell

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie