French people want a greener Europe

Notwithstanding the harbingers of economic doom calling for rapid growth at all environmental costs, the majority of French people state green policies a priority for Europe.

  • 90% of the French population say they are in favour of developing an energy mix based on renewable energy and energy efficiency (41% “completely” agree with this idea);
  • Over three-quarters of the French population (77%) think that Europe-wide energy transition and environmental conservation can be factors in economic growth and job creation;
  • 75% of French people consider that it “should be a priority” to establish a European development model that will protect natural resources in Europe and around the world.

The survey was announced by WWF France on May 9th and aimed at influencing candidates running at the European Elections of May 25th.

On a coordinated track, WWF EU coordinated a pan-European platform calling candidate MEPs to commit to specific environmental policy priorities. A manifesto highlighting priorities in nine policy areas, including energy, resource efficient economy, human wellbeing, agriculture and fisheries, was eventually signed by over 600 candidates.

"On average, 80% of national environmental laws are decided in Brussels. So the politicians  we will elect this week will have the power to make decisions regarding many things that impact our daily lives, from the air we breathe, the water we drink, to the food we eat." said Tony Long, Director of WWF European Policy Office in Brussels.

Source: WWF EU, WWF France (in French).


EC withdraws draft law on public access to environmental justice

Having for years remained in the Commission’s “freezer”, due to opposition by key member states such as the UK, the 2003 draft directive on access to environmental justice was officially withdrawn on May 21st. The Commission’s intention to withdraw the proposal was first announced in its October 2013 communication on the “REFIT – fit for Growth” plan to reduce regulatory burden and costly requirements on businesses. Another victim of the same decision was the Commission’s proposal for a Soil Directive (COM(2006) 232), which was also blocked by a group of member states for years. 

According to Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General: “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.”

The draft directive of 2003 granted certain categories of the public access to judicial or administrative proceedings against acts by state authorities that contravene environmental law. It aimed to improve the implementation at the EU level of the 1998 UNECE Århus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters and would be based on the administrative and judicial proceedings existing in Member States.

Access to justice on environmental issues is the only pillar of the Århus Convention that has not yet been adopted by the EU, the other two being public participation (Directive 2003/35/EC) and public access to environmental information ((Directive 2003/4/EC).

Sources: EC-List of withdrawn directives, EC-Annex to COM on REFIT, EEB, Justice and Environment, CrisisWatch.



Italian national parks in risk of paralysis

A call for political alert over the country’s national parks was issued by WWF Italy on May 24th, European Day of Parks. 

As a result of severe national budget cuts on environmental policies and nature conservation, at present only 3 of Italy’s 23 national parks have an operating management board and a President. Famed natural treasures, such as the Abruzzo and the Gennargentu national parks are dysfunctional, since they cannot take important conservation decisions and lack the public participation mechanism that management boards offer. 


May 2014 editorial

The rise of euroscepticism, the growing power of parties with a weak environmental outlook, the low election turnout and the political focus of elections campaigns on rapid growth at all costs cause concerns about the future of the EU as a progressive environmental policy maker. The European Parliament in particular has on many occasions stood firm in support of crucial improvements in environmental law. One of the latest such examples was the new EIA Directive 2014/52/EU: the majority of MEPs supported the need for inclusion of shale gas projects under the scope of the directive, notwithstanding the fierce backstage opposition by dirty energy giants, the industry lobby and a group of pro-fracking governments led by the UK. The final outcome however, product of multiple rounds of negotiations between the Parliament and the Commission pushing for EIA-free fracking operations is exactly what the new lawmakers of the EU should resist: compromising environmental policy progress on the altar of short-term and short-sighted economic gains.

The environment has long been a rather popular field of policy-making for the EU. Opinion polls, even in the midst of the crisis, continue to show that a clear majority of Europe’s people favour strong environmental laws and green economic policies. As Tony Long aptly wrote: “Turning around voter antipathy to Europe will not be easy but at least if the opinion polls are to be believed, the environment is one of the last vestiges of Europe that is still popular and fairly close to people’s interests. … ¶…People care about the water they drink, the air they breathe, the food they eat and the nature that surrounds them. This is not environment as a middle class luxury. This is environment as a statement about values, and security and personal health. … ¶ … These are the kinds of policies and politicians we need to create a new positive story from Brussels. A story that sees environment and people again as the main protagonists. A new Europe for the planet is the prize.”

We sincerely hope you find this bulletin on the environmental dimensions of the crisis interesting and useful to your work.



Candidate MEPs commit to sustainable economies in Europe

In view of the upcoming European Parliament elections of May 25th, WWF launched a pledge platform, calling candidate MEPs to commit to specific environmental and sustainable development policy priorities.

As stated in the EU Elections Manifesto, “Europe has adopted important comprehensive legislation on issues such as nature protection, water and marine conservation as well as illegal timber trade. After important efforts to foster effective implementation of environmental legislation and securing policy coherence, the economic and financial crisis is too often taken as an excuse to lower environmental standards.


New EU directive allows for EIA-free fracking

The new Directive 2014/52/EU “of 16 April 2014 amending Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment” has been welcomed by many environmental groups as a major step towards strengthening impact assessment legislation. It has however also attracted much criticism as hydraulic fracturing, a relatively new and environmentally detrimental technology for the extraction of shale gas, will eventually not be covered by the new legislation. 


Ecologically unsustainable economic policies can no longer be an option

In these hard times, there is no time to waste in maintaining our bankrupt business-as-usual development model. Ecologically unsustainable and resource inefficient economic policies can no longer be an option. 

Before the economic crisis went global, governments met in Copenhagen to talk about the urgency of curbing climate change. In December 2009, societies from across Europe massively demanded a global shift towards a new, ecologically sustainable status quo and a low carbon economies. Five years later, societies appear numb in dealing with the shockingly dismal reality of the economic downturn and seeking truly sustainable pathways for the future. As journalist Naomi Klein has rightly put it, it is precisely this state of social shock that allows governments and business lobbies, “under cover of emergency” to ram through ecologically and socially detrimental policies that would otherwise stumble upon massive opposition by people and media.  

As the European Union can be proud of an important track record as a global champion of green policies, there is much more at stake than the future of the euro and environmental loss in the “old continent”. Policies such as the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, the Water Framework Directive, the REACH legislation on chemicals, the European Pollutant Emission Register, are internationally important examples of policy making that integrates environmental protection in spatial and development planning. 

The true challenge however lies way beyond simply defending what we risk losing in the panic of the crisis: we need to aim for a Europe that is truly sustainable and supports living economies. In precisely this direction, WWF campaigns for public environmental and sustainable policy commitments by all candidates running in the May 25th EU elections for a seat in the new European Parliament.

Theodota Nantsou, WWF Greece & Isabella Pratesi, WWF Italy


To beach or not to beach? Greece legislates for rapid coastal development

In a draft law placed under public consultation on April 17th, the Greek Finance Ministry prepares to propose to the Hellenic Parliament a new legal framework that will:

  • restrict the longstanding public right to unhindered access to the coast;
  • restrict the number of lakes with a legally protected coastal ecosystem to those that are larger than 9,450 sq.m.(!);
  • legalise existing illegal developments on the coastline, upon payment to the public purse of its “objective value”;
  • facilitate beach concessions primarily for the benefit of bars, umbrellas and   summer beds (currently the allowable area for each concession is 500 sq.m., with a min. 100 m. of free land between concessions);
  • encourage permanent constructions on the beach for business purposes;
  • abolish the requirement of coastal zone delineation, as a prerequisite for the approval of private or public developments; 

According to George Chasiotis, Legal Coordinator at WWF Greece, “this draft law is a radical change for the worse of a long-standing, time-honored regime that protects the Mediterranean coast, both as a commons and a valuable, fragile ecosystem. Instead of moving towards the direction of the Integrated Coastal Management, Greece opts for a piecemeal, perfunctory and environmentally destructive approach, which will eventually not only degrade its natural heritage, but harm its tourist sector as well. ” 

Read more: Draft law (in Greek)



Shale gas lobby wins war against strict environmental rules

Intense pressures by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and industry lobbies against specific environmental assessment legislation for shale gas have been crowned with success: the political agreement on the new environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive, a compromise agreement between the Permanent Representatives Committee and the European Parliament, does not include specific requirements for shale gas operations. 

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