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Environmental assessment is a procedure that ensures that the environmental implications of decisions are taken into account before the decisions are made. Environmental assessment can be undertaken for individual projects, such as a dam, motorway, airport or factory, on the basis of Directive 2011/92/EU (known as 'Environmental Impact Assessment' – EIA Directive) or for public plans or programmes on the basis of Directive 2001/42/EC (known as 'Strategic Environmental Assessment' – SEA Directive).
The Directives on Environmental Assessment aim to provide a high level of protection of the environment and to contribute to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation of projects, plans and programmes with a view to reduce their environmental impact. They ensure public participation in decision-making and thereby strengthen the quality of decisions. The projects and programmes co-financed by the EU (Cohesion, Agricultural and Fisheries Policies) have to comply with the EIA and SEA Directives to receive approval for financial assistance. Hence the Directives on Environmental Assessment are crucial tools for sustainable development.
Both Directives have the similar objectives, as follows:
SEA Directive - to provide for a high level of protection of the environment and to contribute to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation of plans and programmes with a view to promoting sustainable development.
EIA Directive - to protect the environment and the quality of life and to ensure approximation of national laws with regard to the assessment of the environmental effects of public and private projects.
SEA Directive is applicable for plans or programmes that are prepared and/or adopted by an authority at national, regional or local level AND required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions. Exemptions are related to plans & programmes the sole purpose of which is to serve national defense or civil emergency and financial or budget plans/programmes.
EIA is mandatory for all projects listed in Annex I are considered as having significant effects on the environment and require an EIA (e.g. long-distance railway lines, motorways and express roads, airports with a basic runway length ≥ 2100 m, installations for the disposal of hazardous waste, installations for the disposal of non-hazardous waste > 100 tonnes/day, waste water treatment plants > 150.000 p.e.). Screening of the applicability is needed for all projects listed in Annex II. The projects listed in Annex II are in general those not included in Annex I (railways, roads waste disposal installations, waste water treatment plants), but also other types such as urban development projects, flood-relief works, changes of Annex I and II existing projects…).
The EIA Directive has to be adapted to reflect the experience gained as well as changes in EU legislation and policy, and European Court of Justice case law. The EIA Directive has been identified as a potential instrument for a future simplification exercise (COM(2009)15).
In July 2009, the Commission published a report on the application and effectiveness of the EIA Directive (COM(2009)378). The report outlines the strengths of the EIA Directive, highlights the main areas where improvements are needed and provides recommendations, where relevant.
In June 2010, the Commission launched a wide public consultation. The consultation covered a broad variety of issues (e.g. quality of the EIA process, harmonisation of assessment requirements between Member States, assessment of transboundary projects or projects with transboundary effects, role of the environmental authorities, and development of synergies with other EU policies). The phase of public consultation was concluded by a Conference for the 25th anniversary of the EIA Directive. The findings of the public consultation and the conclusions of the Conference have fed into the Commission's review process of the EIA Directive.
As a result of the review process, on 26 October 2012 the Commission adopted a proposal for a new Directive that would amend the current Directive. The proposal is intended to lighten unnecessary administrative burdens and make it easier to assess potential impacts, without weakening existing environmental safeguards. The quality of the decision-making process will be reinforced, current levels of environmental protection will be improved, and businesses should enjoy a more harmonised regulatory framework. The changes are also forward looking, and emerging challenges that are important to the EU as a whole in areas like resource efficiency, climate change, biodiversity and disaster prevention will now be reflected in the assessment process.
The tasks implemented under the Environmental Assessment Working Group of ECRAN are building on the results achieved by the EIA/SEA Sub-group of the Regional Environmental Network for Accession – RENA (2010 – 2013). Under the RENA, the activities implemented under the EIA/SEA Sub-group concentrated on the level of harmonization and implementation of the EIA and SEA Directives. Despite the relatively high level of transposition, the implementation of two Directives in all RENA/ECRAN countries is still at the very early stage. All these countries are facing a lack of capacities for appropriate implementation, specially in terms of SEA procedures.
Consequently, the ECRAN activities are focused on capacity building, enhancement of the regional cooperation, exchange of information, awareness-raising and practical application of EIA and SEA.
The tasks are of cross-cutting nature and are implemented in close collaboration with other Working Groups established under Environment Component of ECRAN, especially with the Nature, Water and Strategic Planning and Investment Working Groups, designed as follows:
- Implementation and monitoring of the SEA Directive (selection of pilot sites for provision of direct support in the development of SEA Plans);
- Other environmental assessments (capacity building on the Appropriate assessments – Habitat Directive Article 6; Assessment under Article 4.7 of the WFD – cooperation with Nature and Water Management Working Groups);
- Train the trainers programme on the EIA and SEA with follow up programme implemented nationally at the local level by the trained trainers and support from ECRAN and TAIEX.