Council position on 8th EAP: A missed opportunity for the European Green Deal

Posted on 17 March 2021

In their informal meeting tomorrow, Environment ministers are set to endorse the Council’s position on the 8th Environment Action Programme (8th EAP), as agreed by COREPER today.
What’s happening?

In their informal meeting tomorrow, Environment ministers are set to endorse the Council’s position on the 8th Environment Action Programme (8th EAP), as agreed by COREPER today. The Portuguese EU Council Presidency will also update ministers on the state of negotiations on the EU climate law.

Why does it matter?

The role of the 8th EAP is to set out the direction for EU environmental and climate policy action until 2030, building on the European Green Deal. The Commission’s proposal lacked the overall ambition and forward-looking actions to achieve the stated long-term aim of ‘living well, within the means of our planet’. The Council position strengthens the Commission’s proposal, but there is still some way to go.

On the climate law, the Council of the EU and the EU Parliament remain at loggerheads over crucial issues such as the 2030 target level and an expert advisory body - with the Parliament’s position consistently more progressive. 

Rebecca Humphries, Senior Public Affairs Officer, WWF European Policy Office, said:
“Rather than a vague concept like ‘regenerative growth’, Europe needs a true paradigm shift towards a sustainable wellbeing economy, with a clear framework for monitoring and valuing what truly matters to us, such as our health, nature, or education, all within planetary boundaries. The EU should decisively move away from its narrow focus on economic growth, by using metrics to measure progress beyond GDP.”

Romain Laugier, Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office, said: 
Time is pressing; late agreement on the climate law could risk the Commission having to delay its scheduled June ‘Fit for 55%’ proposal for revised 2030 climate and energy laws. The Portuguese Presidency must urge ministers to be constructive and move forward, including on the 2030 climate target.”

A missed opportunity for environmental action

The Council fails to seize the opportunity to firmly embed the idea of a sustainable wellbeing economy in the 8th EAP, in which public interests determine economics, and not the other way around. While the Commission and the Council’s positions hint to this, they shy away from providing concrete actions, for example, a requirement to assess existing frameworks and indicators with the purpose of moving towards a wellbeing indicators progress framework.

Further, the Council could have gone further on strengthening the enabling conditions and actions for achieving the EU’s environmental policy. This includes a concrete date for the phasing out of all environmentally harmful subsidies (such as 2025), as well as a requirement for all EU policies and initiatives to systematically evaluate sustainability and environmental impacts to ensure policy coherence.

On the positive side, the Council introduces a requirement for the Commission to present further actions for reaching the EAP’s objectives in 2025, which should help ensure that the environment remains a top priority after the 2024 elections.

The Council also includes a welcome reminder that the 8th EAP should be based on the four environmental principles, including the precautionary principle and polluter-pays principle.

Next steps

The European Parliament is still to adopt its position in June 2021, before the final EAP can be agreed. The draft report by rapporteur Grace O’Sullivan provides a comprehensive basis for ensuring the 8th EAP will reach its objectives, notably through calling for a shift to a ‘sustainable wellbeing economy’.

On the EU climate law, a next trilogue session is expected towards the end of March. 

Angelika Pullen
Communications Director, WWF European Policy Office
Tel: + 32 473 947 966

Sarah Azau (on the climate law)
Communications Manager, WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32 473 57 31 37
Children on beach in front of wind turbines
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