The EU’s “REFIT-Fit for Growth” initiative, which was announced by the European Commission on October 2nd, raises serious environmental concerns. The Commission’s Communication cites the environment as a problematic policy area that needs to be subjected to “fitness checks”, whose aim “is to identify excessive administrative burdens, overlaps, gaps, inconsistencies and/or obsolete measures which may have appeared over time, and to help to identify the cumulative impact of legislation.
Their findings will serve as a basis for drawing policy conclusions on the future of the relevant regulatory framework”. Apparently, fitness checks will not be taking into account other parameters, such as the need to strengthen legislation in sectors where environmental protection is inadequate.
According to the Commission’s Communication, important policy initiatives, such as public access to justice in the environmental field and the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive, will not be taken forward. Other important policy areas will be subjected to “fitness checks”. These will include:
- shipment of waste,
- Natura 2000,
- the entire acquis on health and safety at work,
- the Eco label and EMAS,
- consumer rights,
- the general food law
- the technical measures for the protection of marine organisms.
Specifically as regards Natura 2000, it is worth noting that according to the Commission Communication this was not identified as one of the “most burdensome EU legislation identified through that consultation”, yet it is included in the list of policies that will be subjected to a “regulatory fitness check”. During the economic crisis, Natura 2000 has been the stake of much criticism for drawing red lines to high footprint developments in biodiversity hotspots, especially in member states with significant protected area land cover.
As stated in an open letter addressed by environmental groups WWF, EEB and Birdlife to EU Heads of Government, EC President Jose Barroso and European Council President Herman van Rompuy, “[s]olid evidence exists showing that environmental legislation actually spurs innovation and competition. Examples of this are the way EU emission standards for cars have led to a rapid explosion in technological change and forced US and China to play catch up, and the EU chemical policy favoring substitution of harmful chemicals leading to the development of safer alternatives. Unfortunately, these are two areas of legislation that are under direct threat of environmental rollback.”