On 12 and 13 November 2015, the Luxembourg Presidency, in cooperation with the European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB), organised a conference in Luxembourg on the directive concerning the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment which, this year, celebrates its 30th anniversary. The event's participants, public authority and private sector representatives from the 28 Member States, were invited to review the functioning of the directive, exchange good practices and reflect on future challenges. Since it was adopted in 1985, said directive has been amended three times and revised in 2014. Luxembourg's Minister for the Environment, Carole Dieschbourg, spoke of the directive as a "major success in the history of the European Union's environmental policy".
"A major success in the history of the European Union's environmental policy"
Luxembourg's Minister for the Environment, Carole Dieschbourg, opened the session by hailing a "major success in the history of the European Union's environmental policy". The Minister pointed out that the directive introduced the obligation to assess the impacts of specific projects and set up new standards common to all Member States with regard to environmental assessments.
Carole Dieschbourg cited the "many conditions" which had to be taken into account when drawing up the directive. Firstly, it was necessary to agree on the typology of the projects which would be assessed during impact studies. Then, it was necessary to ensure that the system set up takes account of the structural differences between Member States and that the assessments are carried out objectively, coherently and scientifically. In order to ensure transparency, the results of the assessments have to be comprehensible to the public. Finally, the interests of project sponsors had to be preserved by the directive, meaning that it had to guarantee effective assessments which respected deadlines.
The Minister then reminded those present that the original directive (85/337/EEC) had been amended three times (in 1997, 2003 and 2009), resulting in directive 2011/92/EU, although its content was not significantly modified.
Moreover, the 2011 directive was revised in 2014 (directive 2014/52/EU), she explained. "Member States have until May 2017 to transpose the revised directive into their national legislation", stated Carole Dieschbourg, adding that the new version of the directive required environmental assessments to be coordinated along with those conducted within the framework of the Natura 2000 directive.
The two main principles of the revised directive
Gabriella Pace, Deputy Head of Cabinet for the European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, then spoke on behalf of the European Commission, calling on participants to exchange their ideas on the challenges that the new version of the directive may pose.
The speaker also referred to the two main principles of the directive revised in 2014: improving the quality of environmental assessments and reducing the administrative workload.
Gabriella Pace stated that improving environmental assessments would help to adapt projects more easily from their initial development phase. The new quality control mechanism will also improve the quality of environmental reports, she explained, pointing out that the scope of the directive had also been widened. Whereas the directive previously concerned only fauna and flora, it now also addresses biodiversity and natural and man-made disasters, particularly in the nuclear or industrial fields.
With regard to reducing the administrative workload, Gabriella Pace stated, in the same vein as Carole Dieschbourg, that the new directive provided for coordination between all impact assessments conducted within the framework of different directives. "This one-stop shop offers enormous potential for simplification and will reduce duplication during environmental assessments", she explained. This will help to speed up the decision-making process, she said.
The EIB's environmental approach
Jonathan Taylor, Vice-President of the EIB, concluded the opening session by referring to the environmental approach defended by his institution over the past thirty years. The speaker stated that, although environmental protection is not mentioned in the Treaty of Rome, which provided for the creation of the EIB in 1958, his institution, nevertheless, defined environmental protection as one of its priorities in 1984.
The EIB's environmental policy involves integrating the environmental criterion into the assessment of all projects, he explained, and financing projects specifically devoted to protecting the environment.
Jonathan Taylor explained that the EIB joined forces with the World Bank at the end of the 1980s in order to implement an experimental project in the Mediterranean, prior to creating an "Environment Unit" in 1995.
The Vice-President concluded by pointing out that the directive's revisions enabled the EIB to ensure the quality of its decision-making process and, thus, strengthen its commitment to protecting the environment.