The EU environmental policy is mainstreamed into all sectoral policies of the Union, so it is therefore not surprising that this chapter is one of the most challenging as regards the breadth and volume of legislation, investment requirements and need for administrative capacity.
It is important to remember in this context that EU citizens feel strongly about environmental protection. Three out of four consider European laws as being necessary to protect the environment in their country, while four out of five agree that European institutions should be able to check whether the laws are being applied correctly.
This gives both the EU and its member states a powerful mandate to pursue an environmental and climate change policy agenda that ensures the wellbeing of their citizens today and secures future long-term sustainable development prospects for their economies.
The successes of EU environmental and climate change policy to date are undisputed. We have managed to clean up our air and waters, slow down the loss of biodiversity, decouple growth from the use of natural resources and, not least, create millions of new jobs in innovative, future-orientated clean technology industries and businesses.
Having said this, we also know that we have not accomplished all of our aims and that additional efforts are required to this end. Last month, the Commission adopted the Environmental Implementation Review, which includes 28 country reports that map national strengths, opportunities and weaknesses – and include recommendations on how to respond to the challenges identified.
Areas of concern include slower than anticipated progress in waste avoidance on the way to establishing a circular economy, persistent air quality problems in many cities, noise, collection and treatment of wastewater, as well as the protection of species and habitats.
Shortcomings have a variety of root causes in a number of countries, including ineffective coordination between administrative levels, insufficient capacity and lack of knowledge and data. Overcoming these problems towards full implementation of EU environmental legislation alone could save the EU economy €50 billion every year in health costs and direct costs to the environment, as well as creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
Serbia, as a candidate country for EU accession, is slowly adapting to the EU’s environmental standards. It is a country of scenic beauty with important water resources, as well as being a regional centre of biodiversity, with many species and habitats endemic to Serbia only. The government has declared it a policy to preserve these assets for generations to come, and to put the country on a sustainable, low carbon growth path.
The challenge Serbia faces in achieving these policy targets on the road to Europe are obviously similar to those described in the aforementioned review, and Serbia is invited to benefit from the does and don’ts which emerge from this document. Civil society and the private sector play an important role in this context, and it is important to create an enabling environment to allow these stakeholders to play their part. Environmental policy is, after all, the single most participatory EU policy providing the public with far-reaching rights regarding access to information, justice and participation in decision-making.
Given the magnitude of the task ahead, but also bearing in mind the significant benefits, Serbia will from this stage onwards need to mobilise all available resources in order to make tangible progress in managing its environment and climate change challenges and succeeding in accession negotiations.
The EU supports Serbia in this endeavour. Since the year 2000, approximately a billion euros has been granted to the environment and climate change sector, with over 1.5 million direct beneficiaries in the country. We look forward to continuing this cooperation with all stakeholders.