CrisisWatch

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.”

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Crisis turns businesses away from green certification

Research focusing on Italian and Spanish companies EMAS-certified has revealed that the economic downturn deters them from renewing their certificate. This trend appears particularly within the subgroup of companies basing their certification on government grants.  

According to the researchers from the University of the Basque Country (Spain) and the Laval University (Canada),  43.1% of the rms that took part in the study, conrmed that they were going to maintain their certicate, whereas 11.9% answered that they were not going to renew it and the remaining 45% expressed serious doubts about continuing. The research was conducted in 2012 and reports that the number of Spanish companies registered with EMAS was 1217.

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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.”

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Economic crisis undermines capacity to fight environmental crime

Environmental law enforcement being the responsibility of states, the financial crisis has further weakened certain national authorities in their fight against environmental crime.

According to a February 2016 policy brief issued by the EFFACE (European Union Action to Fight Environmental Crime):

One overarching challenge is that the implementation of environmental law is a responsibility that is left up to the individual MS. The EU itself does not have the authority to enforce the provisions outlined in the EU’s legal framework and tools. As a result, the operation of enforcement institutions at the MS level varies and is uneven across the EU. Some MS have special investigative units while others have no environmental crime specialization. Evidence shows that many environmental crimes are not investigated or prosecuted by enforcement institutions for reasons of limited awareness, lack of resources and expertise, and complexity of establishing causality of environmental crime. The lack of financial resources is identified as a significant weakness or barrier to enforcement; this situation has become exacerbated in the recent financial crisis, at least in some MS”.

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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.

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Political tide turning in support of EU nature directives

Nine EU member states have officially expressed their opposition to the European Commission’s move to subject the directives on habitats (92/32/EEC) and wild birds (2009/147/EC) to a “fitness check” under its REFIT initiative: Croatia, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.

In their joint letter, the nine environment ministers state that: “There is now legal certainty as a result of well advanced implementation. Those affected have learned how to deal with the directives’ provisions. Any amendment would require the allocation of personnel and financial resources for a period of many years, meaning that these resources would no longer be available for the much more important process of implementing the nature conservation directives. The result would be new legal uncertainty. We therefore all agree that the directives should retain their current form.”

On a parallel track, members of the European Parliament representing the seven largest political groups co-signed a letter urging First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella to keep the Habitats and Birds Directives in their current form and focus on better implementation. The MEPs who signed the letter are the rapporteur Mark Demesmaeker (BE/ECR)  and shadow rapporteurs Norbert Lins (DE/EPP), Karin Kadenbach (AT/S&D), Catherine Bearder (UK/ALDE), Margrete Auken (DK/ Greens/EFA), Marco Affronte (IT/EFDD) and Lynn Boylan (IE/GUE-NGL) on the European Parliament’s Own-Initiative Report on the Mid-Term Review of the Biodiversity Strategy towards 2020.

Commenting on this historic development for nature conservation in the EU, Geneviève Pons-Deladrière, Director of WWF European Policy Office said: “We expect more EU governments to join this call and put a stop to any attempt to change a legal instrument that has proven to work when properly implemented and financed.
We urge the European Commission to use this momentum and deliver on their commitment to halt the loss of nature. They should maintain the current laws and ensure their effective implementation, as well as tackle the main problems, such as unsustainable agriculture and changes to natural waterbodies, which are causing the damage.

In May 2015, WWF, BirdLife Europe, the European Environmental Bureau and Friends of the Earth Europe launched the “Nature Alert” campaign in response to the European Commission’s evaluation which assesses whether the existing EU nature laws should be changed. The campaign makes the case for improved implementation and enforcement of existing rules set out by the laws - known as the Birds and Habitats Directives. During the summer, over 520,000 people participated in the European Commission’s public consultation and called on politicians to save Europe’s nature laws: by far the highest number of responses ever reached in the history of the EU.

Read more: WWF EU, Birdlife

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Crisis results in sharp reduction of energy consumption

by Michalis Prodromou - According to the IEA’s latest “Energy Balances of OECD countries” report, 2013 saw significant reductions in the total final energy consumption for three Mediterranean countries: Greece (11%), Spain (4%) and Italy (4%). Specifically for Greece, this was the fifth consecutive decrease in gross inland energy consumption.

During the reporting period (2012-2013) the aforementioned countries have also suffered major decreases in GDP levels (3,9%, 1,2%, 1,7% respectively). In order to account for this decrease, energy intensity (i.e. amount of energy consumed relative to GDP) should be used to measure the actual energy efficiency of the national economies. EUROSTAT figures show that between 2003-2013 Greece and Italy –along with the Netherlands and Estonia- have had the smallest decreases, among their EU counterparts, of energy intensity.

 

A sectoral analysis demonstrates the different energy reduction patterns of each country. Final energy consumption in Greece’s residential sector has fallen by 25%, while in Spain and Italy it was the services and industry sectors that featured the highest decrease percentages (4,8% and 8,15% respectively). The economic crisis has had a huge impact on these developments. A living conditions index study performed in Greece revealed that, in 2012, a 29,4% of the Greek population could not meet adequately its heating needs. It has also led to an increase of overdue bills to the Public Power Corporation, that have now reached a total of 2 billion euros- the biggest share, 1.3 billion, belonging to households. Greece’s Energy Minister (until July 17th), Panagiotis Lafazanis, has reportedly noted that when dealing with energy poverty, investments in energy efficiency “mean absolutely nothing for citizens and households being totally deprived of energy sources”. 

  

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Policy highlights - June 2015

1.     European Commission (ECFIN), Statement by the European Commission and the ECB following the second post-programme surveillance mission to Portugal (March 2015)

Economic and financial conditions in Portugal have further improved since the conclusion of the first post-programme surveillance mission in autumn 2014. However, the economic recovery continues to be held back by the remaining macroeconomic imbalances. While the authorities reiterated their commitment to budgetary consolidation, efforts to reduce the underlying structural budget deficit need to continue. The structural reforms undertaken during the financial assistance programme are increasingly having an effect. Nevertheless, the reform agenda to further enhance medium-term growth prospects, job creation and competitiveness remains challenging.”

  

2.     European Commission (ECFIN), New Excessive Deficit Procedure steps published (18 May 2015)

 

Overview of ongoing excessive deficit procedures

Country

Date of the Commission report (Art.104.3/126.3)

Council Decision on existence of excessive deficit Art.104.6/126.6)

Current deadline for correction

Croatia

15 November 2013

21 January 2014

2016

Malta

21 May 2013

21 June 2013

2014

Cyprus

12 May 2010

13 July 2010

2016

Portugal

7 October 2009

2 December 2009

2015

Slovenia

7 October 2009

2 December 2009

2015

Poland

13 May 2009

7 July 2009

2015

France

18 February 2009

27 April 2009

2017

Ireland

18 February 2009

27 April 2009

2015

Greece

18 February 2009

27 April 2009

2016

Spain

18 February 2009

27 April 2009

2016

UK

11 June 2008

8 July 2008

financial year 2014/15

 

3.     European Commission, Five Presidents' Report sets out plan for strengthening Europe's Economic and Monetary Union as of 1 July 2015 (22 June 2015)

What’s in the Five Presidents’ Report concretely?

1. Towards an Economic Union of convergence, growth and jobs

2. Towards Financial Union

3. Towards Fiscal Union

4. Strengthening Democratic Accountability, Legitimacy and Institutions: From Rules to Institutions

5. The Social dimension of EMU

 

Next Steps: This report has put forward the principal steps necessary to complete EMU at the latest by 2025. The first initiatives should be launched by the EU institutions as of 1 July 2015. To prepare the transition between Stages 1 and 2, the Commission – in consultation with the Presidents of the other EU institutions – will present a "White Paper" in Spring 2017, assessing progress made in Stage 1 and outlining next steps needed. It will discuss the legal, economic and political preconditions of the more far-reaching measures necessary to complete EMU in Stage 2, and will draw on analytical input from an expert consultation group. Translating the Five Presidents’ report into laws and institutions should begin without delay.”

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Environmental groups call for a halt to Spain’s environmental rollback 

Spain’s major environmental groups have criticised the autonomous governments for serious rollback on vital environmental policies since the wake of the crisis and issued a list of environmental and social policy priorities, following the elections of May 24th. 

The economic crisis in Spain, now running in its seventh year, has offered excuse for an unprecedented rollback on key environmental and social policies, according to the report “Radiografía social del medio ambiente en España” issued on 3 June by Greenpeace Spain. In the report, Greenpeace states that “during these seven years of the crisis, it cannot be doubted that the Spanish society has suffered one of the worst periods of recession in social and environmental rights and public services”. The attacks on environmental policies have increased energy poverty, the deterioration of health conditions and corruption. In the report, Greenpeace examines the performance of the autonomous communities in the sectors of agriculture, air quality, coasts, fisheries, energy and climate change, land protection and management, and waste. The autonomous communities ranking higher in the index are La Rioja, Navarra and Madrid, while the laggards are Valencia, Cantabria and Aragon.

The report finds that the austerity policies implemented in response to the crisis promote an agenda of basic resource privatisations and the defoliation of important environmental protection services, such as the forest administration. In the same time, millions of euros in public funds are wasted in supporting environmentally destructive investment plans. 

Following on the autonomous government elections of May 2015, WWF, Friends of the Earth, Ecologistas en Acción, Greenpeace, and SEO/BirdLife outlined a programme of policy priorities in order to integrate high-standard environmental protection across all policies and to boost each region’s green economy potential. Spain’s leading green groups focus on the need for a thorough rethinking of the regional environmental governance system. The organisations propose the establishment of a Sustainability Vice-President position in the organogram of each regional government, in order to facilitate the cross-cutting integration of environmental policies and the orientation of the regional economies towards truly sustainable territorial and social development.  They also support the need for environment ministries to be created at each autonomous region, which will be dedicated to ensuring environmental health, law implementation, plan for green jobs and fight environmental crime. They also call on each autonomous government to undertake and “environmental diagnosis” at the very beginning of its term, in order to identify the priority areas for action and investment in green infrastructures.

Read more: Greenpeace Spain, TheLocal.es, WWF Spain.

 

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New law undermines forest conservation in Spain 

A particularly controversial new law on forests was approved by the Spanish Government’s first cabinet meeting for 2015. Environmental groups, including WWF Spain and SEO/Birdlife, heavily criticised the new law. According to their analysis, it contains provisions that allow for the downgrading of public woodlands by new urban development schemes. A most threatening provision, article 50, allows for land use change and the exception of burnt forest lands from protection status, upon “imperative reasons of overriding public interest”. According to WWF Spain, this term opens the door to housing developments in forests and offers incentives for arson. Under previous legislation, land-use changes in burnt woodlands and forests were prohibited for 30 years, in order for ecosystem restoration to be unhindered. 

It is interesting to note that in December 2014, just a few days ahead of the dissolution of the Hellenic Parliament for snap national elections, massive public outcry managed to avert the voting of a similar anti-forest bill, which would change the protection status of illegally converted burnt forests.

Read more: WWF Spain, El Pais (both in Spanish).

 

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