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Environment Action Programmes

The first four Action Programmes

The First Environment Action Programme, which covered the period 1973—6, set out basic principles of EU environmental policy. Among these is the principle that pollution shall be prevented at source. In addition, a project’s environmental impacts shall be assessed during the decision-making processes, natural resources shall be used rationally, the costs of preventing and repairing environmental damage shall be included in the consumer prices (ie internalisation of costs), Member States’ environmental policies shall take due account of the interests of developing countries, environmental information shall be available to the public, and environmental education shall be provided.

In the following years, these principles gradually crystallised through effects of Community legal acts. They are today better known as environmental impact assessment (EIA), the polluter-pays principle, the right to information, etc.

To realise these objectives, the Action Programme spelled out measures that were brought together under three headings:

  • 1. action to reduce or prevent pollution;
  • 2. action to improve environmental quality; and
  • 3. action in cooperation with international organisations.

The major part of the programme was devoted to developing measures of the first kind. These include the setting of scientific criteria for limits on the most important [1]

4 Art 192(3) TFEU.

air and water pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, and phenols; the development of parameters for quality objectives; decisions on emission standards mainly for water pollution; and the formulation of a uniform cost assessment for measures to implement the principle that whomever damages the environment shall pay the cost.

During the period for the Second Environment Action Programme, 1977-81, the attitude towards environmental problems, compared with the period since the early 1970s, changed little. Pollutants were regarded as the most important problem and limitation of these as the primary task. Like the First Action Programme, the Second Programme emphasised control measures. The principles declared in the First Action Programme reappeared in the Second in more elaborate form. However, more attention was now paid to the conservation of natural resources.

The Third Environment Action Programme covered the period 1982-6. Its adoption in early 1983 coincided with the Community’s growing attention to environmental issues and to the more active participation of the EP in environment-related discussions. This programme introduced several new elements in Community environmental policy. Perhaps the most important was recognition of the need to integrate environmental policy with other Community policies.

The Third Programme listed priorities regarding environmental protection within the Community. Protection of the marine environment in the Mediterranean, transboundary movements of hazardous waste, noise from transport, and the development of clean technologies were among the priorities in the list. Member States were invited to consider the environmental interests of developing countries when trading with them.

The Fourth Environment Action Programme was adopted in October 1987, three months after the entry into force of the Single European Act. Through this Act, a new section on environment was incorporated into the EEC Treaty. Such was the need for more stringent environmental measures that it is not surprising that this programme contained a number of new ideas which had been impossible earlier.[2] The Programme covered the period 1987-92.

In the mid-1980s, the problem of implementing and controlling environment- related directives had become a major concern and the Fourth Action Programme paid great attention to this. It had also become clear that strict rules alone would not improve the situation; they had to be accompanied by effective education and comprehensive information dissemination among the general public.

The Programme had a trans-sectoral and substance-oriented approach, in that the preventive measures were not confined to one subject within an environmental sector. Effective preventive measures focused on coordinating the fight against pollution in order to prevent pollution from one environmental sector (eg air) from being transferred to another (eg water).[3] The Fourth Programme included several new fields such as biotechnology and the protection of coastal areas and particularly sensitive sea areas.

  • [1] See further section 2.3.2.
  • [2] S P Johnson and G Corcelle The Environmental Policy of the European Communities (2nd edn,Kluwer Law International, 1995) 19.
  • [3] Ibid.
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