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Livestream Report - EU and co-creation: building a “greener” Europe with citizens

img articolo greenweek ENG

ITALIAN VERSION

The last “EU Green Week” took place in May and like every year it represented the greatest opportunity to discuss the European environmental policies: various conferences in Brussels and events across Europe to create together the rules for a greener Europe.

This Green Week edition focused on the state of implementation of environmental laws, especially on the active role of European citizens, under the slogan “Take the initiative!”. Citizens play a key role in European policies and are themselves the primary promoters and the main beneficiaries of environmental legislation.

EU: the last line of defence forNature

Although we often do not realize it, environmental laws accompany us every day: they have a huge impact on Europeans by improving the quality of the air that we breathe, the quality of the water, the protection of the nature around us, encouraging recycling and waste management. To achieve the goals established by the EU, the rules must be implemented correctly, in line with was stated by Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, “action needs to continue – because you only make environmental progress when if weall pull together. There are remarkable efforts underway around the EU – the task now is to keep that momentum going!”.

 

European environmental laws are widely consented upon, but not completely implemented and often environmental concerns are not really integrated in other policy sectors.

As it has been well highlighted by many speakers during the conferences in Brussels, “a law is only useful if it is put into practice” and as Vella says “we can’t tackle climate change with an idea, neither alt the biodiversity loss...if Member State implements every EU environmental laws we could save our economy around € 55 billion, the costs relating to the health impact and the direct costs on the environment, not counting the 400.000 premature deaths due to air pollution”.

Citizens and local communities, NGOs, lawyers and professors are constantly pointing outthat the action needed to curb the  global nature decline, are not on track to meet the established objectives. As said by Ester Asin, Director of the WWF European Policy Office “only 33% of animal and plant species and 16% of the habitats protected by the Habitat Directive (the European Directive that requiring EU countries to protect habitats of endangered plant and animal species and endangered habitats too) are in favorable state of conservation. We’ve lost 83% of marine species in the last 10 years.”

How can we fill that gap between legislation and action?

Various conferences in Bruxelles focused on the role of citizens in facilitating a common implementation of environmental laws in Europe, how they can defend their environmental rights and what role the new European Parliament could play in filling the implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation gaps.

As Anna Heslop said (quot.), Client Earth lawyer and Wildlife project leader, "Law is one of the most important tools to protect the environment. Citizens and civil society should feel empowered to use it to hold governments and businesses to account, in order to fight for their health and to safeguard the places where they live.”

During the Green Week, the speakers have evaluated and discussed the gaps between those supporting environmental laws and those who are called to implement them, , the unfair implementation of legislation and the access to justice in environmental matters. Furthermore, they have discussed about the main internal motivations that have determined this implementation gap (an incorrect communication, the slowness of the implementation processes, absence of environmental inspectors).

As stated by Paul Speight, Head of Unit on Environmental Enforcement, Directorate-General for Environment, in the European legislation implementing pyramid there are three main players: “Commission, Member States and local actors”. Citizens are the “key” for implementation, organizations like NGOs play a crucial role in democratic choice, especially when proposing changes and bringing complaints.

 

How can citizens and institutions work together?

In April 2019 the European Commission has published a series of reports on the state of implementation of environmental laws in each Member State, the Environmental Implementation Review - EIR, an initiative designed as an inclusive and participatory analysis process to improve the implementation of existing EU environmental legislation and policy.

Another example of participatory process was the public consultation concluded last March named the Water Framework Directive Fitness Check which has collected several opinions as possible about the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive. These Directives have contributed to change both the sustainable management of water and the improvement of the water bodies status, besides promoting the strategies to reduce the risk of flooding across the European Union. This poll has involved a dialogue between main stakeholders and legislators in the Member States and it was the third largest public consultation in the history of the European Commission.

The European “Citizens' Initiative” is a unique tool that allows citizens from different EU countries to come together to propose concrete legislative changes in favour of a common cause. This initiative leads to direct participation in European policies in any area for which the European Commission has the power to propose a legislative act. This tool is complemented by the possibility of making complaints, collecting evidence and building cases.

Indeed the European Legislator does not dialogue alone, in accordance with the European sense of participation and inclusiveness and in line with the Aarhus Convention which gives the public (individuals and associations representing them) the right to access to information and to participate in environmental decisions, as well as the right to appeal if these rights are not respected.

 

The day-after the European Elections: a Europe with a “green heart”

EU citizens benefit from some of the highest environmental standards in the world. The European Union along with national governments have set clear objectives until 2020 to guide European environmental policy, drawing up a vision by 2050, with the support of dedicated research programmes, specific legislation and funding.

European environmental policies and legislation protect natural habitats, keep water and air clean, ensure proper waste disposal, improve knowledge about toxic chemicals and help enterprises move toward a sustainable circular economy.

The European Union set limits on single-use plastic by 2021 through the Directive proposed on 21 May, which will result in € 22 billion saving. In March the European Parliament set limits and controls on car emissions in order to limit the production of greenhouse gases (mainly as a result of the Dieselgate scandal). In order to promote a transition to a 'circular economy', in November 2018 the European Parliament established the threshold of renewable sources for the EU’s gross final consumption at 32%, to be metby 2030.

Proper implementation saves money, saves animal and plant species, improves our living standard: it is a “democratic and social issue” and a choice that Europe makes by promoting greater active and direct participation by citizens, who are the real decider of the laws they will have to respect.

Federica Milioni

Europe Direct Emilia Romagna