4. The EEA's Contribution
The EEA begins its work at a watershed in the development of environmental policy in Europe. The commitment to sustainable development underlined in Agenda 21 and in the EU's Fifth Environmental Action Programme, and the need for its urgent application in the countries of central and eastern Europe, has created the need for new structures and new approaches towards environmental protection.
Progress towards sustainability requires the deployment of novel instruments other than traditional 'command and control' legislation. It demands the active participation of all sectors of society in a spirit of shared responsibility. And it depends upon the integration of environmental considerations into the activities of both the public and the private sectors.
Most of this is new territory for environmental policy makers in both the EU and even more in the countries in transition. More than ever it places a premium on the availability of reliable information and analysis concerning not only the state of the physical environment but also the range and effectiveness of measures that might be taken to protect and improve it.
The Regulation establishing the Agency describes its role in policy development in the following terms:
"to provide the Community and the Member States with the objective information necessary for framing and implementing sound and effective environmental policies; to that end, in particular, to provide the Commission with the information that it needs to be able to carry out successfully its tasks in identifying, preparing and evaluating measures and legislation in the field of the environment..." (EEA Regulation 1210/90, Article 2 (2))
The Agency therefore is in a position to make a significant contribution to all stages in the policy process. Moreover, the fact that it is open to countries other than existing EU Member States puts it in a unique position to contribute to the development of pan-European environmental programmes.
Potentially the EEA can play a key role in the establishment of new administrative structures for environmental protection (particularly in the CEE countries), and in the various stages of the policy process. Many of these activities are spelled out in the Agency's Multi-annual Work Programme 1994-1999, whilst others have been proposed by a number of European institutions and agencies with an interest in environmental policy.
The EEA is in a position to provide information and analysis in relation to:
- identifying best practice with respect to creating effective legal and administrative structures for developing, implementing and enforcing environmental policies;
- reviewing institutional mechanisms for integrating the environment across all policy sectors;
- furthering the application of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration by developing guidelines for promoting public participation in the development of environmental policy.
The identification and understanding of environmental problems
The Agency's foremost task is to improve the gathering and analysis of environmental data through the establishment of the European Information and Observation Network (EIONET), and the strengthening of international co-operation in the field of data collection. The analysis of this data can clarify causes, scenarios and risks, and provide an essential underpinning to the development of policy responses. This involves inter alia the following tasks:
- collecting data from dispersed sources on a comparable basis;
- establishing new monitoring programmes where none exist;
- developing standardised monitoring, reporting and forecasting techniques;
- developing standardised methods for establishing environmental carrying capacities.
The analysis of different policy options and instruments
The Agency is also in a position to play a key role in facilitating an exchange among policy-makers of national experiences in relation to
- the development of sustainable development plans
- the development of methods of 'green' national accounting
- the identification and application of best available technologies
- environmental management techniques, including eco-auditing
- the application of environmental impact assessment for projects, as well as for policies , plans and programmes
- the effectiveness of new policy instruments, and the assessment of different combinations of instruments for dealing with various environmental problems
Policy Implementation and Evaluation
Article 2(2) of the EEA's instituting Regulation makes clear that the Agency needs to concern itself with issues of policy implementation. Indeed, the development of effective polices can only proceed from an understanding of whether interventions are likely to work in practice. The EU's Economic and Social Committee has proposed that all reports submitted to the Commission by Member States in accordance with the requirements of EU legislation should be collected and analysed by the Agency.(7) The European Parliament has also proposed that the Agency undertake regular reviews of the environmental impact of the application of Community funds in the Member States.(8)
The Parliament has also pressed for the EEA to be granted powers of inspection in relation to the implementation by Member States of EU environmental legislation. Whether this is an activity that the Agency should properly undertake is a matter that will be examined during the review of its role in 1996.
Shared responsibility for moving towards sustainable forms of development requires far greater access by the public to environmental information and analysis. Indeed, the creation of sustained pressure from an informed environmental movement is a key requirement for keeping the environment high on the policy agenda, especially in the countries in transition. The EEA has a clear role in acting as an information exchange I adding value' to existing information by collating, packaging, clarifying and information to the general public and NGOs. This it can do through a variety of publications, CD-ROMs, seminars and conferences.
A vital aspect of this work is to extend public awareness across Europe of the existence and requirements of international environmental conventions and EU environmental legislation. Just as the Agency is required every three years to publish a State of Europe's Environment report, an equally compelling case can be made for the collection and regular dissemination of information on the state of Europe's environmental policy.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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