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European Union and Environment


BirdLife International
CEE Bankwatch Network
Friends of the Earth Europe

Wednesday 6 July


Brussels (Belgium) -- Two crucial votes on the EU's multi-billion euro structural and cohesion funds for the 2007-2013 period took place on July 6, 2005. The European Parliament voted on a set of new regulations [1] which European environmental NGOs (Friends of the Earth Europe, BirdLife International, and CEE Bankwatch Network) welcomed as a vote in favour of the greening of the funds. At the same time the European Commission adopted draft Strategic Guidelines for the EU funds [2] which NGOs acknowledged as a considerable improvement on earlier drafts.

The regulations set the rules for EU funding (what can be funded and how) while the strategic guidelines set the common European priorities for investment among the member states and regions. The votes on the funds, which this year represent EUR 32 billion (or one third of the EU budget), came less than three weeks after the failure of the EU budget negotiations.

In particular, the Parliament agreed that:

  • the funds must foster sustainable development, protect and improve the environment, and avoid damaging projects;
  • the funds should finance urgent environmental priorities including climate change prevention, Natura 2000, and water protection;
  • civil society should have a say in the monitoring and management of the funds;
  • investment into energy savings in social housing can be supported from the funds - a pressing economic and environmental issue in the new member states;
  • Cohesion Fund should also finance improvement of regional transport infrastructure, which is usually more urgent for development of regions than Trans-European transport networks;
  • efficient use of the funds should be rewarded from a special "performance reserve".

Among the priorities for the Strategic Guidelines adopted by the Commission are a strong focus on energy savings, renewable energy and innovative eco-technologies. The adopted version is a considerable improvement on earlier drafts, which had raised concerns due to the narrow focus on growth and jobs and a lack of attention to sustainability. For example, support for nature protection and water protection in river basins is at least mentioned now among the
investment priorities and there is generally more focus on the environmental sustainability of development.

Rachel Lee from BirdLife International said:
"The EU funds have a great potential to foster sustainable patterns of development, including supporting Europe's protected nature and species - as long as the rules and priorities are set properly. If not, the funds can also cause a lot of damage by supporting environmentally harmful or unnecessarily costly projects. Today's votes of the Parliament and the Commission go in the right direction and raise hopes.The real challenge now lies in the member states and regions who will choose how to spend this EU money."

Magda Stoczkiewicz from CEE Bankwatch Network said:
"The regulations for structural and cohesion funds are one of the most important legislative packages in the European Parliament this year. The Parliament has called for greening of the rules today. Support for investment in energy savings in social housing, for example, can bring enormous economic and environmental benefits in the new member states,
whose large housing estates are notorious for wasteful use of heating. Support for financing the improvement of regional transport infrastructure from the Cohesion Fund rather than financing only Trans-European transport networks is also very helpful for the sustainable development of European regions. The ball is now in the court of the Council to put the Parliament?s propositions into the legal texts of the regulations."

Martin Konecny from Friends of the Earth Europe said:
"Even with improved rules and priorities at the EU level, the challenge for making EU funds really sustainable remains enormous. The four countries which have so far most benefited from the EU funds (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain) have witnessed by far the greatest increases of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. The EU rules and guidelines
provide good opportunities but few guarantees that member states will use the money for sustainable patterns of development. If EU countries are serious about combating climate change and reaching the Kyoto goals, they must shift the funding priorities towards the three areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable transport. The new member states in particular should reap the economic and environmental benefits by investing in their under-funded railway and public transport systems and in their huge potential for energy savings and renewable energy generation."

Rachel Lee, BirdLife International Task Force coordinator:
Rachel.Lee@rspb.org.uk, +44 1767 680551
Martin Konecny, Friends of the Earth Europe:
Martin.Konecny@foeeurope.org, +32 2 542 01 85
Magda Stoczkiewicz, CEE Bankwatch Network: magdas@foeeurope.org, +32 2 542 01 88

NOTES for editors:
[1] A set of five regulations on the cohesion policy for the 2007-2013 period (general regulation, European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund, Cohesion Fund, and cross-border cooperation). Legislative proposals were adopted by the Commission in July 2004. Council agreement of the package and a second reading in the Parliament are expected later this year.
[2] "Cohesion Policy in Support of Growth and Jobs: Community Strategic
Guidelines, 2007-2013"
The formal legislative proposal for Strategic Guidelines will be published only after the new regulations on the cohesion policy are approved. The Guidelines will then be negotiated in the Council and the Parliament as well.

© Atgaja, 2004 • Office: Drobes str. 62, Kaunas, Lithuania • Mailing: ACP P.O.Box 156, Kaunas 44002 Lithuania.
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