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Laurs Norlund, the Chef de Cabinet for the European Commissioner Bjerregaard (Environment Policy) welcomed the opportunity that the European Exchange Programme and the European Heritage Partnerships Workshop provided to share knowledge and to help prepare for environmental challenges which must be faced over the next decade.
Laurs Norlund explained that environmental policy in Europe had come a long way since it was first included in the Treaty of the European Union. There was now a large body of legislation in place, he continued, which would give the EU the world’s most advanced total body of environmental legislation by the turn of the millennium. In parallel, the EU had maintained and would continue to maintain, the leading role in global environmental policy, most notably shown by the Community’s recent role in securing the result of the climate change negotiations in Kyoto, in December 1997.
Public awareness of the environment was growing, continued Laurs Norlund, but there was still work to be done. Everyone involved in the process of building tomorrow’s Europe, he considered, needed to demonstrate more effectively how Europe could respond to its citizens concerns. Laurs Norlund assured the delegates that the European Commission would keep on modernising and strengthening the environmental legislation and aim to improve its implementation in all Member States.
He spoke of many challenges to be faced over the next decade, specifically the issue of integration of environmental considerations into all European policy areas, enlargement of the European Union and the many issues relating to agriculture.
Despite the good legal framework for environmental protection, progress had been counteracted by other developments, for example, an increase in transport levels had offset the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This, he explained, was where sound environmental management required a broader view, or integration. Laurs Norlund regretted that to date there had been too little progress in adapting policy and decision making to incorporate the wider integrated vision of environmental protection. He suggested that integration necessitated confronting often difficult and conflicting priorities and for this reason there could be a reluctance to accept the costs and other implications which might be required to achieve it.
However, he continued, there were increasing signs of recognition for the need for this style of approach. Commissioner Bjerregaard had, he explained, given integration a high priority and important progress had been made in environmental screening of proposals and actions at Commission level, that is, ensuring that Community Programmes did not finance activities damaging to the environment.
Laurs Norlund reminded delegates that the Luxembourg summit in December 1997 called for a strategy to achieve the goal of sustainable development through the integration of environmental policies and actions. He assured them that the Commission would respond to this request by presenting a strategy on integration to the Cardiff summit in June 1998. The objective of this strategy, he explained, would be to achieve a renewed commitment from the highest political level on the issue of integrating the environment into other policies and to the goal of sustainable development.
Given that most challenges, suggested Laurs Norlund, had their origin in current practices in areas such as agriculture, industry, transport and energy, these were the areas where environmental policy must be integrated. At the Informal meeting of EU Environment Ministers in Chester (UK) in April 1998, Laurs Norlund continued, Climate Change and Agenda 2000 were identified as the first major challenges with regard to environmental integration.
Laurs Norlund explained that the Commission’s Agenda 2000 Communication, published in 1997, set out the Commission’s proposals for the reform of existing EU policies, the process of enlargement and the financial framework for the period 2000-2006. Earlier this year, he continued, the Commission adopted proposals which translated these guidelines into legislative and regulatory terms. He considered that this would undoubtedly have an impact on environmental policies in the future, both at Community and national levels.
The Commission’s Agenda 2000 Proposals were wide-ranging, so Laurs Norlund focused on two aspects: Enlargement and Agriculture. One of the main priorities for the accession process set out in Agenda 2000, explained Laurs Norlund ,was to achieve environmental approximation. Much work had been done already, he continued, but additional work in terms of legislative, administrative and financial assistance would be necessary, particularly with regard to reinforcing environmental institutions and raising public awareness. Laurs Norlund believed that the key to this was the effective and prioritised management of the approximation process.
Laurs Norlund foresaw great potential opportunities from the enlargement process, and considered that a forward-looking approach to the challenge would bring about both environmental and economic benefits, both in terms of the countries themselves and wider transboundary impacts. He believed that resource mobilisation for environmental investments would be one of the most difficult aspects of the accession process. In view of this, continued Laurs Norlund, the European Union needed to intensify its financial and other efforts for supporting all ten application countries of Central and Eastern Europe in meeting the environmental requirements.
Whilst the environment-related accession process would very much focus on the full transposition of and compliance with the environmental acquis, the challenge was wider, warned Laurs Norlund. The benefits could only be fully achieved, he explained, through the full integration of environmental and sustainable development considerations into sector policy and investment decisions, particularly in transport, energy, agriculture and industrial sectors, and in overall regional development. He believed that this integration of environmental concerns needed to be reinforced at the earliest possible stage.
Laurs Norlund went on to discuss the integration of environmental concerns into the agricultural sector, particularly the potential impact of agri-environment measures on environmental policy in the future. He believed that the greening of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), already evident in the Agenda 2000 Communication, had been reinforced in the Commission’s legislative proposals. Further significant environmental gains were evident in the emergence of a strong new clearly defined and sustainable rural development pillar within agriculture. This included measures such as Less Favoured Areas (LFAs), Agri-environment, Forestry and Training.
Across all market sectors, continued Laurs Norlund, a regulation establishing common rules for direct support schemes would enable Member States to link environmental requirements with direct market support payments. He believed that, actively used by Member States, this should result in a significant increase in the standard of environmental care within all agricultural sectors.
Environmental protection, concluded Laurs Norlund, was a true international challenge which the EU was continuing to meet. It was an area where citizens expected action and where political action at European level could make real difference.