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Updated to: 24 February 2015Download as PDF
Distinguishing features of the EIA/SEA system
The EU's EIA/SEA system mainly exists of the EIA Directive (Directive 2011/92/EU, amended by Directive 2014/52/EU (to be applied by the 16th of May 2017)) and the SEA Directive (Directive 2001/42/EC), the provisions of which have to be transposed in national legislation by EU member states. The Directives give member states a considerable amount of freedom to determine the specific configuration of their EIA/SEA legislation, to allow for tailor-made solutions that are appropriate for the national context. For that reason, the Directives are less specific than most national EIA/SEA systems.
Administrative system: relevant features
The European Union consists of 28 member states (plus 6 candidates and 3 potential candidates). Member states are indicated in blue on the map below.
Three institutions are directly involved in EU legislation:
- the European Parliament, which represents the EU’s citizens and is directly elected by them;
- the Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of individual member states;
- the European Commission, which represents the interests of the Union as a whole.
The European Commission normally proposes new laws, and the Parliament and Council adopt them. The Commission and the member states then implement these laws, and the Commission examines whether this is done properly.
Day-to-day management in the European Commission is the responsibility of the Commission's staff, organized in more than 40 departments known as Directorates-General (DGs). One of these is the DG Environment, which is responsible for ensuring that member states correctly apply EU environmental law. Its objective is 'to protect, preserve and improve the environment for present and future generations' by ensuring a high level of environmental protection in the EU. The DG Environment has proposed several new laws over the years, including EIA and SEA Directives.
In addition, the European Environment Agency (EEA) was established to provide independent environmental information to those who develop, adopt, implement and evaluate environmental policy in the EU. Its main clients are EU institutions (the Commission, Parliament and Council) and member countries. Apart from providing information in order to support informed decision-making by these clients, the EEA also coordinates the European environment information and observation network (Eionet).
Relevant international conventions
The European Union has signed and approved the following international conventions:
- The Aarhus Convention (signed in 1998, approved in 2005);
- The Convention on Biological Diversity (signed in 1992, approved in 1993);
- The Espoo Convention (signed in 1991, approved in 1997) and the first and second amendment (signed in 2008);
- The SEA Protocol (signed in 2003, approved in 2008).
Legally, such international agreements must comply with the founding Treaties of the EU. However, they have greater value than “unilateral” secondary acts, i.e. acts adopted unilaterally by the European institutions (regulations, directives, decisions, etc.). For that reason, the EIA and SEA Directives have to comply with provisions in international conventions.
Environmental Standards: relevant features
The European Union has environmental standards on a large number of issues, and claims that these are among the strictest standards worldwide. Environmental standards include those on surface water quality, air quality, noise, and various other topics.