CrisisWatch Newsletter issue 41

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

Policy highlights - May 2014

1.  European Commission-ECFIN: Statement by Vice-President Kallas on Portugal (17 May 2014) 

“After Ireland and Spain, Portugal is the third euro area country to successfully graduate from its financial assistance programme. While this is a cause for celebration, there is no cause for complacency. To deliver a more robust recovery and bring down the still unacceptably high level of unemployment, it will be essential to maintain an unwavering commitment to sound budgetary policies and growth-enhancing reforms in the months and years ahead.”


2.  European Commission-ECFIN: Preparation of Economic and Financial Ministers Council, Brussels (2 May 2014)

“From the examined countries the Commission found imbalances in fourteen Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, France, Hungary, The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and the United-Kingdom) while imbalances were not identified in three Member States (Denmark, Luxembourg and Malta). From the countries with imbalances, in three cases they were found to be excessive (Croatia, Italy and Slovenia). On 5 March, Vice-President Rehn said: "Overall, macroeconomic imbalances, which built up over many years, are gradually receding, but at the same time new concerns have arisen, which require closer attention. This is reflected in the Commission's conclusions on the 17 Member States under scrutiny."”


3.  European Commission: Spring 2014 forecast: Growth becoming broader-based (5 May 2014)

Country economic forecasts for EU-28.


4.     European Commission-Representation in Cyprus (conference): Environmental Tax Reform in Times of Economic Crisis: What Are the Prospects? (6 June 2014)

“Governments across Europe need to raise revenue to pay off debt and reduce deficits. At the same time they are committed to implement EU legislation. Member States will be asked to pursue the implementation of structural reforms and to consolidate public finances in a growth-friendly way, i.e. by promoting the EU resource efficiency roadmap.  ¶ Environmental Taxes are key for a cost-effective fiscal consolidation. European states generate most of their revenues by levying taxes on labour and income. At the same time, activities causing environmental degradation and depletion of scarce natural resources (such as consumption of electricity, fuels and water as well as production of waste) account for a small fraction of government finances. This endangers economic growth and employment while rewarding over-exploitation of natural resources. Environmental fiscal reform can correct this disparity by shifting the focus of government taxes from labour/income to environmentally harmful and resource-depleting activities.”


1,500,000 EU citizens win battle against privatisation of water

Achieving the support of almost 1,500,000 EU citizens, campaign platform “Water is a human right” ( achieved a remarkable feat: Commissioner Michel Barmier for Internal Markets and Services announced that the EC will exclude water services from its Concessions Directive.

“I fully understand why citizens are both angry and upset when they are told their water services might be privatised against their will. I would feel the same if there was such a risk. It has led to the first European citizens' initiative and 1.5 million people signing a petition on water. Despite all the changes to the legal text, and the contributions from all political parties in the European Parliament and the Council, it is my judgment that the text we now have relating to water is not satisfactory for anyone: it does not provide the reassurances that citizens expect and it creates fragmentation in the single market”, stated Commissioner Barnier.

One of the aims of the EC’s 2011 proposal for a directive on the award of concession contracts was “[t]o ensure a real opening up of the market and a fair balance in the application of concession award rules in the water, energy, transport and postal services sectors”.  

Sparked by the European Commission’s pressure on crisis-stricken member states to proceed with the privatisation of their now municipal water services, a coalition of NGOs and citizens groups addressed Economic Commissioner Olli Rehn in May 2011, asking the Commission to withdraw from such demands. In a September 2012 reply from the Commission, ECFIN’s desk officer for  Greece replied that “...privatisation of public companies contributes to the reduction of public debt, as well as to the reduction of subsidies, other transfers or state guarantees to state owned enterprises......The Commission believes that the privatisation of public utilities, including water supply firms, can deliver benefits to the society, when carefully made.”  

Earlier in 2013, Commissioners Barnier (MARKT) and Janez Potocnik (ENV) issued a common statement saying that “[t]he Commission has a neutral position on the public or private ownership of water resources”.

Campaign platform was launched in May 2012 and has been listed as a European Citizens Initiative in the European Commission’s register, under the 211/2011 Citizens Initiative Regulation.

Sources: European Commission, Europe Online Magazine, Corporate Europe Observatory, Official register of European Citizens Initiatives.



Policy highlights - February 2014

EU ECFIN: Energy consumption down by 8% between 2006 and 2012 in the EU28 (17 February 2014)

Over the last two decades, gross inland energy consumption in the EU28, which stood at 1 670 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 1990, rose to a peak of 1 830 Mtoe in 2006 and then decreased to 1 680 Mtoe in 2012. Between 2006 and 2012, gross inland energy consumption in the EU28 has fallen by 8%.The energy dependence rate, which shows the extent to which a country is dependent on energy imports, was 53% in the EU28 in 2012.

Between 2006 and 2012, energy consumption fell in twenty four Member States and increased only in Estonia (+11.6%), the Netherlands (+2.9%),  Poland  (+0.8%)  and  Sweden (+0.4%). The  largest  relative  falls  were recorded in Lithuania (-17.0%), Portugal (-15.2), Greece (-14.4%) and Hungary (-14.2%). 

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