[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[SANET-MG] can EU build a sustainable world
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/EUSus.phpISIS Press Release 28/09/05
Can the EU Help Build a Sustainable World?
Dr. Caroline Lucas MEP on the challenges and opportunities for a
sustainable world in the new European Union
I want to talk about the role of the European Union (EU) in helping to
build a sustainable world, and in particular, to outline some of the
challenges that need to be overcome before the EU can fulfill its
potential in this most urgent of tasks.
And the case that I would make is that the EU is facing something of a
crisis in its policymaking on sustainable development, that the gains
which the EU has made in the past could well be lost in the future, and
that the role of the EU as a progressive force on sustainable
development issues is by no means guaranteed in the future.
Admittedly the word ‘crisis’ is a strong one. But this rather grim
assessment is based on three things in particular: first, an enlargement
process which, I would argue, has lost its way; second, a review of the
EU’s own sustainable development strategy which reveals that progress
towards the quite modest goals it has set itself has been – in most, but
not all areas – painfully slow; and third, a draft EU constitution which
has failed either to reinvigorate the EU with a new sense of purpose, or
to grasp this unprecedented opportunity to put sustainable development
at the heart of the Union.
Set that against the wider political context of the growing
euro-scepticism across a large number of EU member states; the no votes
to the constitution in France and the Netherlands, the low turn-out in
European elections, and the growing disconnection between the EU
institutions and the citizens they are supposed to represent, I think we
have some justification for using that word, crisis.
You may be familiar with the idea that the two Chinese ideograms for
“crisis” represent threat and opportunity respectively and I would
readily admit that the situation in the EU at the moment is not only one
of threats, but also some big opportunities out there, and one of the
things I want to talk about is how we grasp those opportunities, and put
sustainable development at the heart of EU policy-making.
Impact on environment in accession countries
So first, let’s take a quick look at the impact of EU enlargement on the
environment in the accession countries. Will enlargement result in a
step forward or backward for sustainable development? At first glance it
might seem that the answer is obviously a positive one - but quite
frankly, to my mind, the jury is still out. Because while, quite
clearly, the environment in the accession countries will benefit from
the implementation of some EU environmental legislation in areas like
air pollution and water quality, there is a very real danger that those
gains could be undermined by acceleration in unsustainable production
and consumption patterns.
On the positive side, take the EU’s laws on clean air. Every year,
several tens of thousands of people die prematurely in the accession
countries because of air pollution, which has been reaching catastrophic
levels. According to an independent study written for the European
Commission , at least 15 000 lives will be saved every year when the
EU legislation for clean air is fully implemented in these countries. EU
laws should also lead to better drinking water quality, cleaner rivers
and bathing waters and improved waste management, with recycling and
waste prevention potentially cutting the amount of waste to landfill by
50 percent. These gains are by no means guaranteed, however.
One concern is about the transition periods that the accession countries
were granted for the implementation and enforcement of the EU
environmental legislation. While clearly justified and legitimate in
themselves, given the investment over many years that will be required
to implement new legislation, it will be important to ensure that these
transition periods are not misused to gain short term economic
advantages, by delaying the implementation of urgently needed
For speedy implementation of EU environmental laws, far greater
resources must be made available to do the job. The rather grubby fights
and arguments about the funding of the enlargement process has been one
of the least edifying aspects of the process.
The cost of implementing EU environmental legislation alone for the 10
new Member States plus Bulgaria and Romania has been estimated at
between 80 -110 billion euros over a 15 year period. Under the current
EU 2000-2006 budget, they will receive just 22 billion euro from
Structural and Cohesion funds. To put that in perspective, the costs of
German reunification are running at 1.25 trillion euros, and East
Germany still hasn't caught up with the West.
Unless substantially more resources are made available, and targeted
with the help and support of civil society groups, hopes that accession
countries will be able to “leapfrog ahead” of the current Member States
and set an example for sustainable development, as DG Environment
suggests, seem extremely over-optimistic.
Moreover, some of these potential gains could well be cancelled out by
new threats to the environment from the enlargement process. One example
is the anticipated increase in road transport driven by needs of the
Single Market - the Commission has estimated, for instance, that lorry
journeys across the Czech Republic could increase by as much as 40
percent after accession. Membership of the CAP is likely to increase the
pressure on farmers to use more pesticides and fertilisers, while EU
funding of large infrastructure is often degrading the very environment
that EU standards are supposed to uphold.
Impact on sustainable development policy making
But while hundreds of reports have been written on the likely impact of
enlargement on the state of environment in the accession countries
themselves, there has been much less analysis of the impact of
enlargement on the process of environmental policy-making in Europe.
Suggestions are circulating, for example, that the EU will need to
pause, or slow down, in passing new environmental legislation until the
accession countries have caught up. Worse still, some have even argued
that we should replace binding legislation altogether with voluntary
agreements. Considering the urgent problems of toxic chemicals or
climate change, to name just two examples, I think it’s clear that such
an approach would be a major step backwards, and would lead to large
scale environmental destruction, endangering the health of Europe’s
citizens and preventing urgently needed innovation. And we need to be
extremely vigilant to make sure that does not happen.
Sustainable Development Review
Back in 2001, the European Commission published its sustainable
development strategy – a sustainable Europe for a better world – which
set out 80 commitments on sustainable development, on everything from
reducing road transport to promoting a sustainable fisheries policy, and
internalising external costs.
Progress on achieving the objectives set out in the strategy is supposed
to be regularly reviewed, along with a comprehensive assessment at the
start of each new Commission’s term of office. Unfortunately, however,
the signs are that the Commission is neither taking this obligation very
seriously, nor is it going to be in a position to report very much
A report from the Green 8 – 8 of the most important European-wide
environmental groups – is fairly damning in its own assessment,
published last year.
Here are some of its conclusions.
The Sustainable Development Strategy as an agenda for real change is not
being maintained, and there’s no consistent or comprehensive approach
towards sustainable development inside the Commission.
With regard to REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of
Chemicals, a proposal for a new EU regulatory framework for chemicals
adopted 29 October 2003), a reactionary campaign from European industry
federations has dominated the scene so far, with a prominent reflection
in the views of several Member States.
The Strategy has not had a positive influence on the outcomes of a
number of key directives on energy products taxation, fisheries, public
procurement and environmental liability, all of which have proved to be
weak instruments, with the internal market and competitiveness arguments
winning out over the environmental ones.
I have to say I share that analysis. I think we have to challenge the
business resistance to regulation and acknowledge that while voluntary
instruments and codes of best practice have a place, they cannot replace
all binding targets.
So what of the constitution? What does the document itself, and in
particular its rejection by France and the Netherlands, tell us about
the state of environmental policy making in Europe?
A huge amount of lobbying went on, first of all to try to make the
sustainable development provisions of the constitution stronger than we
have in the current treaties. However, it soon became clear that this
was an over-ambitious aim, and that energy needed to be redirected to
ensure that, at the very least, the constitution was not a step
backwards - for example, the two key principles of environmental policy
integration and policy coherence were very nearly lost, and only
re-instated after huge protest. As some key actors who were involved in
that process have written in a recent article in the Environmental Law
Network International Review, “the environmental organisations spent a
great deal of time running to stand still. It is highly unlikely that
European citizens will feel that the EU has now acquired a stronger
legal base to design policies that will address their fundamental
concerns about the future of the environment, and the social well-.being
of present and future generations.”
DG Environment itself expressed disappointment over the draft
Constitution, with reports from them saying, “unfortunately the draft
treaty does not go far in providing law-makers with the scope to achieve
better results in the field of the environment.”
DG Environment also failed to get its special protocol on sustainable
development attached to the Treaty, which would have underlined the
importance of putting sustainable development firmly at the core of EU
policy-making, and set out firm measures to ensure that it was not
over-ridden in favour of other factors.
To quote from a letter written on 1 July 2005 by the Secretary General
of the European Environmental Bureau:
“We have strong indications that President Barroso has decided that the
appropriate response to the political crisis the EU is facing at the
moment is to stop initiating further environmental policies. Since
yesterday we understand that also REACH is in danger for that same
reason. Next week he might force a revision (weakening) of the
Commission’s REACH proposals. One the 12th or 20th of July the
Commission will have a general debate about the purpose of the seven
Strategies that the 6th EAP [Environmental Action Programme] is
requiring, and their possible cumulative impact on EU’s competitiveness.
This discussion could lead to a dramatic decision which should be prevented.
Believing that the support of large parts of the public in the EU can be
(re)gained by giving up EU’s lead role in providing better protection of
the public against pollution and environmental deterioration is, in our
view, a big mistake. Quite the contrary, Eurobarometers continue to show
that the European public rates environmental policies as one of the most
important duties of the EU.”
Indeed, from my perspective, the biggest tragedy of the constitution is
that it represents such a hugely wasted opportunity that could have been
used to put sustainable development at the heart of the EU.
I’m often asked whether the EU is a positive or negative force for
sustainable development. This is not an easy question, because I believe
there is a paradox at the heart of the European Union. It is summed up
in two recent European Summit objectives. At the Lisbon Summit, the EU
adopted a major new objective – to become the most competitive economy
in the world.
Just a short time later, under pressure from Greens and others, it
adopted a further objective – to become the most sustainable economy in
But what EU policy makers have failed to recognise is that unless the
quality and direction of the EU’s economic activity changes, these two
objectives will not be reconcilable. The EU has some of the best
environmental policy-making in the world – but it often fails to achieve
the environmental standards it sets itself – primarily because whenever
there is a potential collision between economic competitiveness on one
side and environmental sustainability on the other, it tends to be the
economic priorities that win. Take the proposals for an EU energy tax,
for example, which could be one of the single most effective ways of
internalising environmental costs and shifting towards sustainability –
yet it has been blocked for years, on the grounds that it could damage
the competitiveness of European industry.
At the same time, I have argued that the EU also faces a crisis of
legitimacy – you see it in the low-turn out in the European elections,
in the ‘no’ vote in France and the Netherlands, in the rejection of the
Euro in those countries that had a referendum on it, in the initial
rejection of the Nice Treaty in Ireland, in growing euro-scepticism
across the EU.
And so I’d make the case that the EU needs a new Big Idea. Fifty years
ago, its aim was clear – to bring peace to Europe by binding countries
together in an ambitious free trade project. Now that project risks
being an end in itself. The debate on the future of Union has been
dominated by “economism” – the idea that the overriding goals of
European integration were economic and that the progress of the EU
should be judged in terms of economic growth and the removal of internal
market barriers alone. People are not clear what the EU is for, any
more. Economism has allowed the EU to avoid many fundamental questions
of political culture and strategic purpose and has contributed to its
“crisis of idealism”, its inability to inspire the mass of citizens with
a sense of enthusiasm and common cause.
A new big idea, based on a genuine attempt to achieve sustainability in
all its facets, could both revitalise the EU institutions, and
re-inspire that enthusiasm. The EU could be a leader in renewable
energies, it could be a leader in learning to live more lightly on the
planet, it could be a leader in pioneering different economic models
which improve our quality of life without being at the expense of the
environment, future generations, and the poor of both rich and
developing worlds – but it needs to resolve its internal contradictions
Yes, the EU needs to become more democratic and accountable, less
bureaucratic and remote: but it also needs to have a compelling vision
of its role and purpose. So I believe we should demand a new and better
constitution that states that the fundamental aim of the new EU is to
bring us closer to the ideal of sustainable development; a constitution
that sets out to build a truly “sustainable Europe”, based on a network
of states and agencies with maximum subsidiarity, the devolution of
responsibilities to the closest possible level to the citizen within an
overarching set of high social and environmental standards, with freedom
for member states to go beyond those standards if they wish.
This would allow the EU to build on its important successes in
environmental and social policy, and to connect Europe’s development to
the issues of globalisation, poverty, ecological degradation, and true
security that will dominate the coming decades. A new Constitution needs
to be an occasion for stating what the EU stands for – as Will Hutton
has argued, “Only thus can Europe have any ideological and cultural
glue; without it we are just a commonwealth of states in a customs union.”
Finally, how does all this theory translate into practical action,
particularly in what we have been talking about during this conference –
issues of sustainable food production and tackling climate change?
Action at EU level is absolutely essential in order to give us an
enabling policy framework in which to shift to more sustainable
consumption and production patterns.
To give just 3 examples:
1. EU legislation would be key for ecological tax reform, enabling us to
internalise environmental costs - one of the single most important
contributions to achieving a more sustainable world. Ecological tax
reform would automatically lead to less long distance freight, more
localised food, less use of fertilizers and pesticides.
2. Legislation at EU level would also be essential in order to introduce
regulations on multinational corporations, since introducing such
legislationat national level would be more difficult, risking
relocations and capital flight.The EU is therefore uniquely well placed
to bring forward binding social and environmental standards, monopoly
and competition laws, to break down the inordinate powers of the
3.Action at EU level is vital in order to challenge the scope and
direction of the WTO – individual nations standing up at the WTO don’t
tend to get heard. In any case the EU negotiates on behalf of all 25
member states – to get the re-introduction of protective quotas and
tariffs, to ensure the rich don’t keep exploiting the poor, to get
anywhere nearer fairer trade, action at EU level is essential.
And what is going to bring all this about?
There is an opportunity in the EU right now as it struggles to find a
new role and identity. The realities of oil peaks and climate change are
getting clearer and sharper all the time.
The demands of the developing countries are getting more unified, clear;
loud and more widely heard. For all its flaws, the Make Poverty History
campaign was an important movement to keep building upon.
Evidence of the unsustainability of business as usual is mounting, as
Michael Meacher said: (“Policies for sustainable food systems, national
and global”, this series) oil is running short, water is running short,
biodiversity is destroyed. Our challenge is to wake up political leaders
urgently NOW so they address the changes or else we face a future of
much more chaos as these changes are thrust upon us.
This article is based on a lecture given at the Sustainable World
International Conference 14-15 July 2005 in UK Parliament, Westminster,
Sponsor our Sustainable World Global Initiative here:
The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 32097, London NW1 OXR
telephone: [44 20 8452 2729] [44 20 7272 5636]
General Enquiries email@example.com - Website/Mailing List
firstname.lastname@example.org - ISIS Director email@example.com
MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT PERMISSION,
ON CONDITION THAT IT IS ACCREDITED ACCORDINGLY AND CONTAINS A LINK TO
To unsubscribe from SANET-MG:
1- Visit http://lists.sare.org/archives/sanet-mg.html to unsubscribe or;
2- Send a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org> from the address subscribed to the list. Type "unsubscribe sanet-mg" in the body of the message.
Visit the SANET-MG archives at: http://lists.sare.org/archives/sanet-mg.html
For more information on grants and other resources available through the SARE program, please visit http://www.sare.org.