Effectiveness of European environmental legislation a mystery

It’s impossible to tell how effective European environmental legislation is, says a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA), with the available information on member states’ compliance being of limited use in assessing effects and effectiveness.

Although there is no shortage of reporting obligations imposed on member state governments, and there are often complaints about ‘reporting fatigue’ from the more than 100 pieces of environmental legislation in force, the majority of European Union measures require greater effort to demonstrate their effects on the environment, says Reporting on environmental measures – Towards more ‘sound and effective’ EU environmental policies by the EEA).

This means that Europe faces two challenges: to devise a reporting system that will provide more information about the effects of environmental measures; and also to lighten the bureaucratic burden on governments by limiting reporting requirements to the most essential types of information, says the EEA.

The solution is to build evaluation needs into the design of policies and legislation from the beginning, according to the organisation. “Evaluation should not be an afterthought,” said the report, outlining a number of measures, including:

  • explicit quantified objectives combined with timetables for their achievement;
  • a preference for ‘evaluation-friendly’ instruments over less quantifiable policies, for example economic instruments rather than information and awareness campaigns;
  • a requirement for baseline monitoring prior to the implementation of measures, facilitating ‘before and after’ comparisons; and
  • greater provision for pilot projects in order to facilitate fine tuning.

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