This report on public access to environmental information, published by the European Environment Agency (EEA), has come at a particularly timely moment, namely the beginnings of the review of Directive 90/313/EEC which deals with this very issue. It reflects the fact that since the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, nationals of the Member States have had citizenship of the Union itself; although this confers at present very limited rights and duties it is the germ of a future in which the citizen can look to the Union as a real polity. In conjunction with moves towards greater transparency and accountability in Union decision making, the EU is in a process of becoming closer to the people: a process which all democrats must support and help to continue.
A major factor in this drive for accountability and real citizenship is access to information. Quite simply, citizens must be informed about policy making in order to make reasoned decisions about it. This is particularly important in the field of environmental policy, which is both at the heart of taking mankind into the new millennium and an essential part of the Union's policy competence. My Committee has been vociferous in its advocacy of extended public access to environmental information for many years, and expects the Union to make substantial progress in this matter.
Moreover, 'environmental information' must be subject to a broad definition. On the march towards sustainability, with its emphasis on the integration of environmental and other policies, many more crucial policy decisions will need to prove they will involve a manageable environmental impact in order to be realised. To prevent confusion over what is environmental and what is not in the minds of public officials, it may even be necessary to move in the direction of an EU Right to Know Act covering all public decisions, so that the citizen is secure in the knowledge that all that he or she needs to know is freely available.
Furthermore, access to information has a real impact on the ability to ensure effective enforcement of environmental legislation. We need to know what member states have done to implement Union regulations and directives. We need to know how they propose to make good any shortfalls they have in compliance with Union law. We need to know how they are setting about making a sustainable society. For all these reasons, public access to environmental information is vital.
I welcome this report, and call upon the Commission to be active in its pursuit of a much reinforced Directive 90/313/EEC. If we are serious about sustainability, and about the democratisation of the EU as a means of providing the political machinery to achieve it, then greatly improved access to environmental information for the citizen is a prerequisite.
Ken Collins, MEP, Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection
For references, please go to http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/92-9167-020-0/page002.html or scan the QR code.
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