Survey: Europeans want more EU action on environmental protection

Two-thirds of EU citizens would like the European Union to intervene more than at present in order to protect the environment, according to a Eurobarometer Survey for the European Parliament issued in April 2017. In this survey, the environment ranks third in the list of areas calling for more EU action, after terrorism and unemployment. In the same survey of 2016, the environment featured in the sixth position.  

Despite the economic crisis and against fears that environmental concerns would regress, this year’s survey saw an 8% increase in the opinion that more EU action is needed in protecting the environment.


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.


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.”


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


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


15 November 2013

21 January 2014



21 May 2013

21 June 2013



12 May 2010

13 July 2010



7 October 2009

2 December 2009



7 October 2009

2 December 2009



13 May 2009

7 July 2009



18 February 2009

27 April 2009



18 February 2009

27 April 2009



18 February 2009

27 April 2009



18 February 2009

27 April 2009



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.”


Commission recommends path to greener tax policies

Fixed in its original orientation towards economic growth, the Commission called on member states to promote greener tax policies through its European Semester cycle of economic policy coordination: “Environmental taxes remain underdeveloped in many Member States and their revenues in percentage of GDP declined during the period 1999-2008, despite efforts to move to a greener society. Revenues have however increased in 2009 2010 and 2011. There is potential to raise revenue through tax increases as well as through reducing tax expenditure in environmental taxation. 

Generally, environmentally-friendly taxation would also greatly benefit from the adoption by Member States of the revised Energy Taxation Directive (ETD), which aims to restructure the way in which energy is taxed to support the objective of moving to a low-carbon and energy-efficient economy, and to avoid problems for the Internal Market.



Pressures grow for relaxation of EU environmental law 

At the latest Competitiveness Council (10 and 11 December 2012) EU ministers discussed the need for revision of the common industrial policy. In the shadow of the economic recession and its impact on industry, voices calling for relaxation of the legislation relating particularly to environmental impact assessments and permitting  procedures. According to Portugal’s Minister of Economy and Employment Álvaro Santos Pereira, “we can't be naïve regarding some parts of the Globe. We need to have a reciprocity policy regarding the treatment we get in other countries. It's not acceptable that because of our environmental and commercial policy we have lost our industry to other countries. We have to guarantee that this reciprocity happens without affecting our industry”.


Portugal sees crisis as opportunity for green tax reform

An integrated green tax reform proposal was recently announced by the Commission for Green Tax Reform, which was established by the Portuguese Finance Ministry in January 2014. Following a period of consultation with business, scientific and civil organisations, the report was submitted by the ad hoc commission to the Minister of State and Finances, the Minister of Environment, Spatial Planning and Energy and the Secretary of State for Tax Affairs, on September 15th. The Government is now expected to evaluate the proposals and decide on the next steps.

The proposed reforms, which are estimated to result in total public revenues of EUR164 million, cover the sectors of i) energy and emissions,  ii) transport, iii) water, iv) waste, v) urban and spatial planning, vi) forestry, vii) biodiversity and other. This increased tax revenue for the state coffers will result from the introduction of new taxes, the increase in existing taxes and the reduction or elimination of certain tax exemptions.


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.”


Policy highlights - April 2014

1.European Commission-ECFIN: The Second Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece-Fourth Review (April 2014)

2.European Commission-ECFIN: The Economic Adjustment Programme for Portugal - Eleventh Review (April 2014)

3.European Commission-ECFIN: Commission staff carry out fifth Post-Programme Surveillance mission to Latvia (10 April 2014)

4.Special Eurobarometer 413 – Future of Europe (March 2014)

Towards 2020: priorities and preferences 

  • To face major global challenges, nearly half of respondents (49%) think society should focus on social quality and solidarity, up from 43% who said this in 2012. 
  • There is also strong support for emphasis on progress and innovation (34%) and protecting the environment (31%). 
  • A majority of people still support more EU-level decision-making in a range of policy areas such as protecting the environment and tackling unemployment. 
  • A narrow majority of people (47% vs. 43%) back the idea of a “two-speed Europe” that would enable some countries to intensify the development of a common European policy in certain important areas without having to wait for all the other Member States to be ready. 
  • There is strong support (69% of respondents) for the President of the European Commission being elected directly by EU citizens.”

5.Spring Alliance: A better Europe now-Manifesto II (April 2014).

The Spring Alliance brings together civil society stakeholders from environmental, social and development organizations and trade unions to present a positive vision for a Europe that puts people and planet first. Despite a prevailing sense of crisis, the Spring Alliance believes that there is still an opportunity to adopt a better way towards solving Europe’s problems. ¶ This however requires a radical departure by the new European Commission and European Parliament from current policies which have not succeeded in solving the crisis and have led to citizens increasingly losing their trust in their political leaders and in the European project. As a result Europe has gone backwards in a number of crucial areas in the last five years and has failed to make sufficient progress in others.”


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