EU Environmental Policy

EU Environmental Policy

The EU environmental policy is based on Articles 11 and 191-193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The environmental policy helps the EU economy become more environmentally friendly and safeguards the health and wellbeing of people living in the EU.  

The European Union (EU), its composition, and the different programmes offered to facilitate Member States in achieving their Environmental objectives; including the LIFE programme and Cohesion fund. The EU has developed some of the world’s highest environmental standards, in the form of Directives, Regulations, and Decisions. Failure for a member state to comply with European legislation results in the European Commission taking steps to commence formal infringement proceedings against said country. These proceedings may result in financial penalties for the Member State if the country fails to rectify the situation following the court’s judgment.

The EU (EU) can trace its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC). It was formed in 1951 and 1958 respectively by the Inner Six countries of Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The EU as we know of it today was created by the Maastricht Treaty on November 1st, 1993. Since then, it has developed some of the world’s highest environmental standards through the enactment of environmental policy.

Advancements have also been made since the European Council met in Cardiff in 1998 to establish the Cardiff processes. Since then the integration of environmental concerns into other EU policy areas has become an important concept in European politics. Environmental policy integration has made significant progress in recent years, for instance, in the field of energy policy. In the past 30 years, the EU has adopted a substantial and diverse range of environmental measures aimed at improving the quality of the environment for European citizens and providing them with a high quality of life

The enactment of European legislation across member states

In the EU’s institutional set-up; the EU’s broad priorities are set by the European Council which brings together national and EU-level leaders, directly elected MEPs represent European citizens in the European Parliament. It is the responsibility of national governments to defend their own country’s interests in the Council of the European Union.

European Law is shaped by either primary or secondary legislation. Treaties are the starting point for EU law and are known in the EU primary law. The body of law that comes from the principles and objectives of the treaties is known as secondary law; and includes regulations, directives, and decisions. The European Commission (EC) has been established to ensure member states adhere to secondary environmental laws set. The members of the EC are appointed by national governments. The EC will take steps if an EU country does not fully incorporate a directive or regulation into its national law by the set deadline or might not have applied the EU law correctly. (European Commission,1999).


Most EU environmental laws are Directives. They are designed to impose obligations on the Member States and to be adequately flexible to take into account differing legal and administrative traditions. When a directive prohibits an action (the use or the discharge of certain substances such as asbestos or heavy metals in products), it provides fixed requirements. But when a directive fixes limit values (82/884/EEC on the limit value for lead in the air) which are precise targets to reach, it leaves the Member States free to decide how to comply. Directives enter into force upon the date specified in the directive, or on the 20th day after publication in the Official Journal.


Regulations account for approximately ten percent of EU environmental law and are deemed to be the most powerful form of EU law. Regulations are binding and apply simultaneously in the same way in all member states. Regulations operate much like national statutes, in that they are binding on all member states as soon as they are approved. Similar to Directives, Regulations enter into force upon the date specified, or on the 20th day after publication in the Official Journal. Regulations have a direct effect both vertically and horizontally meaning that the law can be relied on immediately. For instance Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 June 2006 outlines the conditions waste can be shipped between countries.


The Decision is binding on the addressees it indicates, who may be one, several, or even all the Member States. The variation of potential addressees is coupled with a variety in the scope of its contents, this may extend from a quasi-regulation or a quasi-directive to a specific administrative decision. It takes effect on its communication to the addressees, rather than on its publication in the Official Journal. Decision 2000/532/EC establishes a list of wastes. It is a classification system for wastes, which included a distinction between hazardous and non-hazardous wastes.

Failure to implement EU Law

If national authorities fail to properly implement EU laws, the Commission may start formal infringement proceedings against the country in question. The procedure follows a number of steps laid out in the EU treaties, each ending with a formal decision. The Commission must send a letter of the formal notice requesting further information to the country concerned, which must in turn send a detailed reply within a specified period. This is usually 2 months. If the Commission concludes that the country is failing to fulfill its obligations under EU law, it may send a reasoned opinion (a formal request to comply with EU law). Following this, if the issue is still not settled, the Commission may eventually refer the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).). If the country fails to rectify the situation following the court’s judgment, the Commission may refer the country back to the ECJ. Upon referring a country for the second time, the Commission proposes that the Court impose financial penalties, which can be either a lump sum and/or a daily payment.

In 2013, the ECJ found that Ireland had not met the legal obligation required by the 1975 Waste Framework Directive Ireland introduced legislation to regulate wastewater discharges from all homes not connected to the public sewer network. Septic tanks and private water systems are now easier to inspect and the environment is now better protected. Being a part of the European Union means Ireland can act in unison with the other Member States to tackle global environmental challenges like climate change.

EU Environmental Policy
Understanding EU Environmental Policy

Changes in environmental laws among the European Union’s member states

Life Programme

Financial penalties are a final resort and is only one of several different tools utilised by the EU to aid with achieving its objectives. For example, Ireland’s environment has benefited from millions of euros in EU funding through the LIFE programme. Since 1992, LIFE has contributed approximately €3.1 billion to the protection of the environment throughout Europe. (European Commission, 2017).

Cohesion Fund

It is thought that the most important and effective tool that the EU currently has is the Cohesion Fund. It was set up in 1994 by Council Regulation (EC) 1164/94, to provide funding for environmental and trans-European network projects (The European Parliament,2017). It is the EU’s way of sharing the burden of creating clean development. (Reza Ansari, 1999). During the 2014-2020 programming period, the Cohesion Fund is providing funding for 15 Member States. One such state is Portugal (The European Parliament, 2017). The Cohesion fund is already thought to be assisting Portugal in ensuring compliance with the Urban Waste Water Directive. In January 2016, a case was brought forward by the European Commission to the ECJ citing Portugal’s failure to fulfill obligations to Article 4 — Secondary treatment or equivalent of Directive 91/271/EEC (Urban wastewater treatment). In response, the Portuguese government is currently assigning further resources into “PENSAAR 2020 – A new strategy for the water supply and wastewater treatment sectors (2014-2020)” with the provisions received from the fund. (European Environmental Agency, 2017).


The collection of the European Member States / current embodiment of the EU has transformed/transitioned from an agreement on Steel and Coal mining to a Union that features some of the world’s highest and most stringent environmental standards. Environmental policy helps protect nature and safeguard the health and quality of life of people living in the EU (Europa. 2017). The EU offers several tools to assist its member states achieve environmental policy including the LIFE programme, and Cohesion fund. However, if a member state does not fully incorporate a directive or regulation into its national law by the set deadline, the European Commission may start formal infringement proceedings against the country in question which could result in financial penalties for this member state.

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