Green laws are good for EU economies

On February 3rd, the European Commission published its environmental law review, highlighting the importance of full implementation for healthy and sustainable economic development.

According to the report:

The EU's environmental policy and legislation bring undeniable benefits: they protect, preserve and improve the environment for present and future generations, and preserve the quality of life of EU citizens. Weak implementation generates high societal, economic and environmental costs and it creates an uneven playing field for businesses. The importance of the correct implementation of the EU's environmental acquis is also reflected in the Seventh Environmental Action Programme.”


A year in #NatureAlert & hope for our living planet

Recounting a year full of political heartbreaks, environmental and humanitarian threats, hopes and action, is quite a challenging task. As Europe’s economy shows little political hope for sustainable recovery, one would reasonably expect a rise in environmental pressures, widespread concern and fear for the future, even anger at the lack of leadership for a restart towards a stronger and better Europe. 

The ease with which demagogic rhetoric gains political ground is proof of the void left by the traditional political parties and their inability to address the unprecedented challenges of our times. Europe’s inefficient response to the humanitarian refugee crisis, the continued austerity recipe to the never-ending economic crisis, and the EU’s reluctance to uphold and honour its own global leadership in forward-looking green policies are indeed factors that contribute to public discontent.


Less debt more Earth

WWF opens dialogue on green debt relief for a living economy in Greece

Seven years of crisis and austerity in Europe are placing great strain on the European project. In Europe’s nature, life goes on: Greece hosts a unique ecological treasury, which is threatened by increasing pressures for rapid but unsustainable growth and environmental deregulation. Greece’s debt can hardly be deemed sustainable and is crippling for the prospects of the country’s economy, environment and social well-being. This condition also prolongs the economic uncertainty of the entire euro-area. Debt relief seems inevitable. A green debt relief agreement, under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, can offer a long lasting solution to this European crisis.


Crisis deters industry from investing in waste management

In its recent judgment on the C-584/14 case “European Commission v Hellenic Republic”, the European Court of Justice ruled that Greece has violated key EU laws on hazardous waste management. The Court imposed heavy financial sanctions on the Hellenic Republic: a lump sum of 10 million euros, plus a penalty payment of 30,000 for every day of delay in complying with the decision.

In the arguments put forward by the parties, the Commission notes that the dire situation of the Greek economy does not allow investors and waste producing industries to invest in proper hazardous waste management. For this reason, the Commission has proposed that the Greek authorities undertake the responsibility for the establishment of the necessary landfills for hazardous waste. The Court decided that member states cannot use fiscal or political problems as a legal excuse and that Greece had simply and unjustifiably missed the deadline to comply with its judgment of 10 September 2009 in Commission v Greece (C‑286/08).

The necessary funding for the construction of the hazardous waste landfills in Greece had been secured since the 1990’s through the EU’s Structural Funds. According to the arguments of the parties, 33% of the hazardous waste produced in the country is not managed appropriately and in compliance with the rules set out in the directives 2006/12/EC, 91/689/EEC and 1999/31/EC.

According to the Court, “in the first place,  the importance of the rules of EU law which have been infringed, in the second place, the consequences of that infringement for public and private interests, such as, in particular, the high risk environmental pollution, the detrimental effects for health and the proper functioning of economic activity of the country, in the third place, the attenuating circumstance consisting in the creation of specific criteria for the selection of appropriate sites and of the annual inventory of hazardous waste, but also of the aggravating circumstance relating to the small amount of progress made so far and to the hazardousness of the waste, in the fourth place, the clarity of the provisions infringed and, in the last place, the repeated unlawful conduct of the Hellenic Republic concerning compliance with EU rules in the area of waste, a coefficient for seriousness of 10 is appropriate”.



Read more: Case C-584-14 Judgment of the Court, CrisisWatch


Will the EU still be a green leader after the crisis?

By Dr Viviane Gravey*

When thinking about the impacts of the crisis on environmental policy, we need to think about all the different steps and institutions involved in making and applying policy. Each of these may be weakened by the crisis, undermining green policies overall.

In the EU, most environmental policies start as EU directives and regulations, which are then implemented (often quite differently) in each member states. How well the member states implement these depends on many factors such as, for example, the number of environmental inspectors. Implementation is then controlled by both national courts and EU institutions: the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. A weak implementation system will fail to deliver positive changes to environmental quality, irrespective of how ambitious new environmental laws are, and conversely, a lack of ambition at the decision-making stage will undermine ambition at the implementation stage.

 ©  European Commission

Greece’s forests threatened under new austerity law

LATEST: In response to the political outcry caused by the exception of illegal housing agglomerations from the forest maps, Alternate Environment Minister Yiannis Tsironis submited to Parliament a legal rephrasing that clearly does not allow the declassification of illegally built forests and woodlands.


CrisisWatch Newsletter issue 41

Your news on how the economic crisis affects Europe's environment
Issue 41 / March - April 2016
Read your news online:



All eyes are turned on the viability and the future of the European project and EU member states coming even closer together. As Britain, one of the first states to join the European Community back in 1973, is set to decide on the future of its EU membership and the fears of Brexit are now more real than ever, hard evidence on the serious impacts of a possible EU-UK divorce are compelling for both sides. In Britain most of the discussions on the June 26th Referendum have focused on politically burning issues, like immigration, trade and the economy. Yet, the Brexit environmental impact assessment published by The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and WWF UK reveals that Britain's EU membership has delivered considerable environmental benefits that need to be brought to the political and public debate.

Deeply immersed into an existential quest dominated by the ongoing economic downturn, the fear of Brexit and the refugee crisis, Europe’s leaders downplay the environmental factor and fail to see the
green writing of the wall. Although however the continuing pressures by industry and governments to deregulate crucial green laws and policies in the name of rapid economic growth have pushed the EU to an environmentally lethargic state, evidence that environmental regulations do not harm economies is compelling: a recent report by the OECD concludes that environmental policies and laws do not harm export competitiveness. This conclusion is consistent with the findings of previous OECD studies, which prove that a stringent regulatory framework for the protection of the environment has no negative impact on productivity – instead, they can work together.

As Tony Long, then Director of WWF EU, remarked at an October 2014 conference in Athens, “…politicians are now in the unenviable position of having only a bag of growth indicators to sell to their increasingly skeptical and knowledgeable electorates who want and need to be presented with other indicators of well-being and progress”. It is high time that Europeans stand up and make their voice heard in demand for ecologically and socially sustainable ways out of the crisis.


This newsletter’s news:

  • OECD: Strict green laws do not harm export economies
  • Environmental NGOs on the refugee crisis in Greece
  • UK needs a greener Budget to face high cost of environmental loss
  • Brexit? UK's conservation groups assess environmental impact
  • EU Court of Justice rejects right to free pollution 
  • Policy highlights

OECD: Strict green laws do not harm export economies

Rapid economic growth at all costs being the dominant political mantra since the beginning of the crisis, EU environmental legislation has been the target of unrelenting pressures for easing, on allegations that it prevents businesses from growing and thus hampers economic recovery. A recent study by the OECD however adds evidence to the opposite conclusion: strict environmental regulations and policies do not harm export competitiveness. This conclusion is consistent with the findings of previous OECD studies, which prove that a stringent regulatory framework for the protection of the environment has no negative impact on productivity – instead, they can work together.

According to the working paper, “Environmental policies are not found to be a major driver of international trade patterns, but have some significant effects on specialisation. More stringent domestic policies have no significant effect on overall trade in manufactured goods, but are linked to a comparative disadvantage in "dirty" industries, and a corresponding advantage in "cleaner" industries. The effects are stronger for the domestic component of exports than for gross exports, yet notably smaller than the effects of e.g. trade liberalisation.”


WWF maps “blue Gold Rush” in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean region is currently facing impressive growth, a real “blue Gold Rush”, which has gained speed during the ongoing economic crisis. Without a long-term vision for sustainable development, the Mediterranean Sea will not be able to sustain the region’s economies and human wellbeing.


MedTrends, an analysis recently published by WWF on the development trends in the Mediterranean, provides the first integrated picture of 10 key economic maritime activities in Croatia, Cyprus, France, Italy, Greece, Malta, Slovenia, and Spain. With a view to 2030, MedTrends illustrates and maps the current status, future development trends and the environmental impacts (to 2030) of maritime transport, tourism, oil and gas, aquaculture, fisheries, mining, coastal development, renewable energy, and land-based pollution.


WWF addresses the IMF, EU & ECB on Greece’s environmental rollback

In a letter addressed to the representatives of the creditor institutions in Greece Delia Velculescu (IMF), Declan Costello (EC) and Rasmus Rüffer (ECB), the environmental organisation WWF Greece sheds light on the environmental rollback, intransparency and bad law-making, which plague the country and have worsened during the crisis.

In the letter, which presents the English version of WWF’s 2015 environmental law review, WWF Greece’s Director Demetres Karavellas states inter alia that:

“The findings of this year’s report are indeed alarming: dramatic decline in the quality of legislation and the transparency of the law making process; torrential loss of critical environmental safeguards, particularly in the domain of forest protection and environmental impact assessment; paralysis of the national system of protected areas; threats to valuable natural habitats by unsustainable development projects; continued downgrading and undermining of the environmental inspectorate; utter contempt for EU law in the environmental licensing and the operation of lignite power plants; licencing of a new, heavily polluting lignite power plant in Ptolemaida, which will cost at least 1,4 billion euros and will be financially unsustainable in the framework of EU climate policy; increasing lack of transparency in the Green Fund; never ending legalisation of illegal buildings and land uses, at the expense of legal certainty and equality, and with a huge environmental cost and an incalculable loss of revenues from the uncollected financial penalties.”

Read the letter.

Read WWF Greece’s 2015 environmental law review, focusing on 1) Greece’s economic adjustment programmes, 2) energy and climate change, and 3) nature and biodiversity.



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