A clean, healthy and diverse environment is the prerequisite for prosperity and well-being for everyone in Europe. This can only be achieved through a common framework. Environmental pollution, no matter where it comes from, does not stop at national borders. It will also be important to rule out short-term economic advantages which can arise from the fact that a few countries have lower environmental standards. Therefore, approximately 80 per cent of the environmental policies applicable in Germany are made in Brussels, by the EU Commission, the EU Parliament and the Council, which represent all 28 member states.
Effective environmental protection also requires reasonable coordination of environmental with economic, transport and agricultural policies. In Europe this is to be achieved by mechanisms such as the Lisbon Strategy or the Sustainable Development Strategy. Important data on European environmental policies and their interaction with other policy fields can be obtained from the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen. The EU enlargement provides a great opportunity to protect the environment in Europe and to strengthen the EU's leading role in international environmental protection. For this reason EU environmental standards are also brought to the attention of our neighbouring countries on the Balkan.
The 7th Environment Action Plan is the basis for the development of environmental policies in the EU: "Living well, within the limits of our planet", which lays down the targets and priorities period to 2020. The programme contains three priority areas: to protect nature and strengthen ecological resilience, boost resource-efficient, low-carbon growth, and reduce threats to human health and wellbeing linked to pollution, chemical substances, and the impacts of climate change. To achieve this, the following objectives have been agreed:
- to protect, conserve and enhance the Union’s natural capital;
- to turn the Union into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy;
- to safeguard the Union’s citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and wellbeing;
- to maximise the benefits of the Union’s environment legislation by improving implementation;
- to increase knowledge about the environment and widen the evidence base for policy;
- to secure investment for environment and climate policy and account for the environmental costs of any societal activities;
- to better integrate environmental concerns into other policy areas and ensure coherence when creating new policy;
- to make the Union’s cities more sustainable;
- to help the Union address international environmental and climate challenges more effectively
Legal provisions are necessary to reach the environmental targets in the European Union. Major legal acts in the EU include the Water Framework and the Waste Framework Directives, the chemicals regulation REACH, the Flora-Fauna-Habitats Directive and the Air Quality Directive. However, the best legal provisions will not be successful if they are not implemented. This is the prime responsibility of the member states. But Brussels also provides support, i.e. through the network for the implementation and enforcement of environmental law, which allows practitioners to learn from each other, or through funds from the LIFE+ programme.
The German government's policy
Germany, as one of the six founding members of the European communities, also considers itself a driving force of environmental policy. In the same way in which the European Union attempts to set international standards, in particular in climate protection and nature conservation policies, Germany is taking the lead in Europe: It has demonstrated that it is possible to restructure industrial societies to become environmentally sound and how it is done and it has given an impetus for the development of ambitious European environmental standards.
Current members of the European Union: Germany, France, United Kingdom, Spain, Poland, Romania, Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Austria, Bulgaria, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Finland, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxemburg, Slovenia, Malta and Croatia.