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The European Commission Puts Forward its Proposals to Revise the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive

The European Commission presented on 26 October 2012 proposals to revise the legislation applicable to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of projects.

25 years of application: time to revise

The EIA Directive set rules for the assessment of the environmental effects of public and private projects which are likely to have significant effects on the environment (Art. 1.1, IEA Directive).

"Projects" are considered to be both the execution of construction works, installations or schemes, as well as other types of interventions in the natural surroundings and landscape, including extraction of mineral resources (Art. 1.2(a), EIA Directive). The projects subject to EIA are defined in Annexes I and II of the Directive, and include among others the extractive industry, the energy industry, the production and processing of metals, the chemical industry, the processing of metals.

The original EIA Directive was adopted in 1985 (Council Directive 85/337/EEC), and entered into force on  3 July 1985. 25 years later, some lessons can be drawn from its application. 

The Directive has been amended several times and was recently codified by Directive 2011/92/EU of 13 December 2011 (OJ L 26 of 28.1.2012, p.1). Codification is a part of the EU's work on "Better Regulation". To that respect, the Commission also has a list of acts that it wants to revise in order to improve the quality of regulation. See on that point the Commission's Communication on "Smart Regulation in the European Union" (COM(2010)0543 final).

The process of revision of the EIA Directive has been, among other things, based on consultation of stakeholders and studies, during the last two years.

Adjusting, Strengthening, Streamlining

The Commission underlines the main objectives of the review of the EIA Directive as being to: lighten administrative burdens, avoid implementation gaps as well as overlapping with legislation (in particular with Industrial Emissions Directive, Habitats Directive, Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive); fix the procedural shortcomings of the Directive; better harmonise the review process for a more similar application in all Member States, in part because the application of the EIA procedure falls within the competence of the states; ensure a better applicaiton of the "screening process"; easier to assess the potential impacts of major projects, without weakening existing environmental safeguards; adapt to technical developments; adapt to develop in policy; adapt to new types of concerns: resource efficiency, climate change, biodiversity, disaster prevention.

The proposals presented today by the Commission is based on 3 key actions:

ADJUSTING  the procedure which determines whether an EIA is necessary, i.e. the "screening process". The objective is that only the projects with significant environmental impacts (criteria defined in the proposal) will be subject to the EIA. Smaller projects will follow a simplified procedure. However, projects of major consequence will be subject to "large-scale" environmental impacts.

STRENGTHENING the rules of the EIA to ensure better decision-making, better decisions and avoid environmental damage. Competent authorities will need to justify further their decisions, including how alternative proposals have or have not been considered. The Commission proposes a mandatory "scoping stage" (= when the scope of the assessment is defined).

STREAMLINING the successive steps of the EIA. It is proposed to define timeframes and mechanisms to coordinate the procedures, in particular when different procedures run concomitantly.

Next Steps

The legislative proposal will now be examined by the Council and the European Parliament under the ordinary legislative procedure.

Text of the legislative proposal: COM(2012) 628 final, of 26.10.2012

Impact assessment of the proposal: SWD(2012) 335 final of 26.10.2012

References: press release, IP/12/1158MEMO/12/809.