Time to work together for our post-Brexit EU

By Theodota Nantsou*

The forecasts about the repercussions of Britain’s Brexit vote on economy, society and environment are gloomy. As the world waits to see what happens next, it is now important for the EU to analyse and understand what went wrong and how this can be fixed.

Europe was evidently not prepared for this dramatic turn of events. The British majority’s vote for exit from the EU came as an unexpected shock. Indeed, contrary to the assertions of the pro-Brexit campaign, the UK did not really depend on the European Union for a large share of its policies. So why would British citizens really bother to vote for an exit?

Following a massively catastrophic first half of the 20th century, the dream of a tranquil and prosperous Europe seemed to come to fruition in the early 1970s, when the key economic colossi had all signed the agreement to become an economic community of states pursuing free movement of people, capital, goods and services. As the community further expanded and included countries of smaller economic clout and different historic backgrounds, the challenge of better integration resulted in a robust acquis of common environmental and resource efficiency policies and laws and progressive international advocacy for strong agreements on climate change, thus rightly elevating the European Union to the pedestal of a global green champion.


WWF responds to EU referendum result

On the 23rd June, the British People decided their future. WWF-UK campaigned for the environment to be integral to the debate and asked voters to consider the implications their choice would have for nature. 

WWF-UK is concerned about the risks and uncertainties for the environment of the UK moving outside the EU.  There will now be many years of transition, so we need to do all we can to ensure that regulations and actions are in place for the environment, to promote a sustainable future including addressing climate change.  These need to be as good or even better than those currently in force within the EU.

The UK remains signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals and to the Paris climate agreement, and we have opportunities through the Government’s own proposed plans for nature and for food and farming to make the case for the protection and improvement of our environment.

Responding to the result of the referendum on EU membership, WWF-UK CEO David Nussbaum said:

“Environmental challenges don’t stop at borders and many require international solutions.  Leaving the European Union brings risks and uncertainties for our wildlife and wild places, but with the right policies the UK could continue to be a global force for the protection of nature. As an immediate step we should retain the environmental protections that have delivered cleaner air and beaches, helped preserve habitats and cut carbon emissions – and build on them to reverse the environmental decline we are experiencing.  

“Environmental considerations are integral to the long-term needs of our economy and society.  The Government’s proposed 25 year plans for Food and Farming and for Nature will now be measures of how seriously Ministers are about taking care of our countryside.  Integrating the needs of farmers and consumers with wider environmental priorities would reassure those who worry that nature will be low on the Government’s priority list.”

WWF will continue to work with partners in Europe and around the world to protect the air we breathe, the beaches we visit, the wildlife we cherish and the countryside we love.  And we’ll keep campaigning for global solutions to climate change.  Our vision is for a world with a future where people and nature thrive.

Read more: UK's conservation groups assess environmental impact of BrexitStatement by WWF UK 



Brexit brings risks for UK environment and leaves EU weaker

Responding to the result of the British referendum on EU membership, Geneviève Pons, Director of WWF European Policy Office said:

We much regret this decision by the British public to leave the European Union, as this brings risks and uncertainties for the UK’s environment, and also risks weakening the EU’s position in tackling international environmental and climate challenges.

All evidence shows that EU membership has brought many environmental benefits for citizens and nature in the UK and across Europe, resulting in cleaner air and water, helping preserve habitats and species, accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions. It is now important that the UK government commits to retaining the high environmental standards set by EU legislation. Neither the environmental decline we are experiencing nor climate change stop at borders, and they need to be tackled urgently, whether as a member of the EU or not.

We also regret losing the UK as a strong and effective advocate for ambitious climate action at EU level, and call on all other Member States to step up their efforts in delivering on the Paris Agreement.

Read more: UK's conservation groups assess environmental impact of BrexitStatement by WWF EUStatement by WWF UK


Brexit? UK's conservation groups assess environmental impact

As the Referendum of 23 June on the future of Britain's EU membership is nearing, Britain's leadeing conservation NGOs informed the political dialogue with a much needed environmental impact assessment of the pros and cons of each vote. On March 8, WWF UK, RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts issued the report "The potential policy and environmental consequences for the UK of a departure from the European Union".

The report has concluded that "on balance, Britain’s membership of the EU has delivered benefits for our environment – such as reduced air and water pollution, reduced carbon emissions, increased recycling, clean beaches and protected areas for rare species and habitats - that would be hard to replicate in the event of the UK leaving. The report also goes on to highlight the risks and uncertainty associated with likely exit scenarios."


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.”


UK needs a greener Budget to face high cost of environmental loss

The Budget must work harder to tackle the growing risks from environmental degradation, natural resource scarcity and climate change if the UK is to enjoy resilient economic growth in the future, states WWF-UK in its recent report. Unless the Government act soon, the consequences for Britain’s prosperity are likely to be costly in the long-term.

In its new 2016 report ‘A Greener Budget: choices for a prosperous future’, WWF-UK sets out a suite of practical policy recommendations that the Treasury could implement through the 2016 Budget to help tackle these risks and put the UK on a more sustainable and resilient economic footing.


British protected areas at risk of fracking hell

New shale gas drilling licences covering 2,700 square kilometers of British countryside, large parts of which are protected as ecologically sensitive, are about to be issued by the Oil and Gas Authority. The West Country, the Isle of Wight and parts of the fragile Jurassic Coast of Dorset are amongst the protected areas where licences for fracking will be offered.

According to British PM David Cameron, his government is “going all out for shale”, which will offer the country’s strained economy “more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security”. According however to reports published by civil society groups, such as Friends of the Earth, the environmental, social and economic costs of hydraulic fracturing far outweigh its benefits to the oil giants now pressing for fast track licences.

On August 18th, the Oil & Gas Authority launched a consultation on its strategic plan-level Habitats Regulation Assessment of the licence blocks, a fast-track procedure which will cover the need for site-specific EIAs. The assessment checks whether the activities will have any “likely significant effects” (LSEs) on the habitats of the licence block, in which case a further detailed appropriate assessment will be undertaken, in accordance with art. 6.3 of the European Union’s Habitats Directive. Of the 159 blocks assessed for likely significant impacts, the authority concluded that 27 will have no LSEs, whereas 132 were subjected to a further appropriate assessment.

Local and international environmental groups are alarmed by the prospect of hydraulic fracturing operations for shale gas taking place within some of the country’s most treasured habitats and landscapes. As stated by Greenpeace’s head campaigner for energy Daisy Sands: “This is the starting gun on the fight for the future of our countryside. Hundreds of battles will spring up to defend our rural landscapes from the pollution, noise and drilling rigs that come with fracking. It seems clear that the government is responding to the vigorous lobbying from the fracking companies by ignoring both the economic and environmental evidence that clean, renewable energy is a far better bet for investment and the planet.”

According to Friends of the Earth, “new fracking rules interfere with local democracy”, as “local councils will no longer be able to protect their communities from dirty, dangerous fracking”.

Earlier in 2015, a broad alliance of environmental groups including WWF, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth delivered a 267,000 strong petition urging PM David Cameron to reconsider his strong support to fracking.

 Read more: Friends of the Earth, The Guardian


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.”

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