Natural environment protection has been one of the most important areas of co-operation among the European Union’s member states for years. The environment protection policy is strongly founded on treaties. The need for the realisation of coordinated and effective ecological policy results mainly from the consciousness that environmental problems are supranational and transboundary. It is impossible to solve them only at the level of particular countries. Environmental issues are also one of the most important factors for the Community’s economic development. The efficient environment protection policy substantially influences the increase of competitiveness of the European Union’s economy.
The formation and evolution of the communal environment protection policy. The environment protection policy of Western European countries was being formed evolutionally for a long period of time. In the Treaties of Rome from 1957, by virtue of which the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC, Euratom) were created, environment protection issues were not referred to. Because of the lack of legal regulations, the European Communities’ member states initially had to solve environmental problems individually, in accordance with their own legal order. An important stimulus for the Communities’ activities in this area was the United Nations’ conference concerning natural environment protection organised in June 1972 in Stockholm. (The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment). The Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, 14 June 1972, proclaimed at the end of the conference, obliged the UN to deeply engage itself in environment protection issues. The representative of countries taking part in the Stockholm Conference initiated international co-operation in the sphere of environment protection, bringing into being – the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP,) in the form of a specialised UN agency. In the effect of these events, at the Parisian summit of the heads of state or government of the European Communities’ member countries, in October 1972, it was stressed that “(…) economic development cannot be a goal in itself”. It was decided that activities of the Communities’ member countries should also encompass environmental matters. At that time the Commission obliged the Council to prompt preparation of an environment protection programme which would be implemented in the member states of the European Economic Community. A foundation for the above activities were the settlements contained in the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (EEC Treaty, art. 235).
The above mentioned activities initiated the creation of the communal environment protection policy. Initially attention was paid to water and air protection, industrial waste management and establishment of minimum standards of environment pollution. On the basis of decisions made in 1972 communal environment protection programmes were started. The First Environmental Action Programme of the European Communities was realised in the years 1973-1976 (the following ones: II.1977─81, III.1982─86, III.1987─91, V.1992─1996, prolonged to 2000 r., VI. 2002─2012). These programmes put stress on preventive actions, connected the environment protection policy with economic and social development of the Communities/European Union and were concerned with environmental impacts of industry, power industry, transport and agriculture development.
In spite of concrete activities aiming at the improvement of the natural environment condition undertaken by the Communities, for many years, that is until the second half of the eighties of the 20th century (until the Single European Act, SEA, entered into effect in 1987), environment protection was not included in the tasks of the European Communities. Nevertheless, the initiation of the communal environmental programmes resulted in the fact that the Communities’ member states accepted successive environmental directives. The first common document of the Communities referring to environment protection was Directive 85/337/EEC from 1985, which introduced a system of the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment. Entering into effect of the SEA, on 1 July 1987, caused the fact that natural environment protection obtained the status of the communal policy. The SEA introduced a new title to the treaties – Natural Environment, in which it was stressed that it was a new communal policy (SEA Title VII, art. 130r─130t, later Title XIX the Treaty establishing the European Community, art. 174─176). The SEA quickly extended the influence of the environment protection policy by its connection with other areas of communities’ operation, among others agriculture, transport and power industry. Moreover, the creation of the European common market by 1992, as provided for in the SEA, had an essential influence on the Communities’ activities in the area of natural environment protection. The elimination of commercial barriers and abolition of internal border control had to be accompanied by the implementation of a control system which would guarantee the preservation of high environmental standards (for instance in the area of trading dangerous substances or industrial waste).
The next important moment in the development of the communal environment protection policy was entering into effect of the Treaty on European Union (TEU, from 1 November 1993), which introduced new rules of co-operation among Communities’ member states. In the area of environment, the settlements contained in the SEA were confirmed and strengthened. The environment protection policy became an important constituent of the first pillar of the European Union. The realisation of treaty tasks of the European Community, forming the European Union with the Euratom, was to be carried out with respect for natural environment. Care for natural environment was considered one of the essential conditions for the European Union’s sustainable development. This direction of activities connected with environment protection was maintained after coming into effect of the amendment of TEU – the Treaty of Amsterdam (1 May 1999), which again strengthened the means for the environment protection policy realisation and turned it into one of the most important tasks of the European Union.
In 1992, twenty years after the Stockholm Conference, The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, 3-14 June) took place in Rio de Janeiro. Representatives of 172 countries took part in it. The Conference in Rio de Janeiro, ending with the Earth Summit, obliged member states of the United Nations to work out and implement eco-development principles, that is economic development realised in a balanced way with maximum respect for natural environment and its resources. During the Conference documents significant for natural environment protection of the Earth were prepared. These were the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21. The Rio Declaration contained principles specifying rights and obligations of countries connected with realisation of sustainable development, including assuring best existence conditions for humanity. In this document it was acknowledged that the only way to achieve these goals is to protect and rationally use natural resources. The document AGENDA 21 contained fundamental recommendations pertaining to protection and shaping of environment in which a man lives, directing special attention to social and economic conditions shaping environment and rational management of natural resources (taking into account how limited they are). The Conference in Rio de Janeiro started a new era in the attitude to natural environment. The European Communities engaged themselves in the realisation of the sustainable development policy drafted during the Conference, signing Agenda 21 and the Conventions on Climate and on Biological Diversity. In the future the communal environment protection legislation evolved in this direction.
Currently most attention is paid to climate change. The European Union’s priority goal is to reduce emission of greenhouse gases, which according to most specialists, cause “the greenhouse effect” dangerous for the planet. It is a long-term and very costly task, requiring reconstruction of energy and transport sectors and introduction of new environmentally friendly technologies and energy sources. The European Union tries to execute the settlements of the Conference in Kyoto (December 1997), and in particular of the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force on 16 February 2005 and according to which greenhouse gases emission is to be systematically limited. In order to decrease emission limitation costs special market mechanisms were introduced, called “flexible mechanisms“,: Joint Implementation Mechanism (JI), Clean Development Mechanism, (CDM) and Emission Trading (ET). An important role in the realisation of the communal environment protection policy is played by created at the beginning of the nineties of the 20th century the European Environment Agency (EEA, 1993) and its member the European Environmental Information and Observation Network (EIONET). The goal of the EEA’s activity is to support both communal institutions and the Agency member states in making decisions aiming at the improvement of the natural environment state, taking into account environment protection issues in economic policy and support of balanced development .
The currently realised Sixth Environment Action Programme of the European Community determines the most important goals of the European Union’s environment protection policy:
- Prevention of climate changes. It concerns the creation of optimal conditions for the implementation of the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol, aiming to decrease the greenhouse effect adversely influencing the climate of the Earth (the reduction of six greenhouse gases 5─8% by 2012 compared with the basic year, that 1990 emission level, by 2020 r. further 40% emission reduction is planned).
- Nature and biodiversity protection. It concerns the protection and recreation of the structure and functioning of natural biological systems as well as stopping the decline of biodiversity on the territory of the European Union.
III. Natural environment and health. It concerns the assurance of such a condition of environment in which pollution levels, including radiation and noise caused by human activity, do not endanger human health.
- Sustainable use of natural resources and proper waste management. It concerns the assurance of balance in environment consisting in consumption of renewable and non-renewable natural resources which does not substantially violate environment resources.
The principle of the communal environment protection law. The basic general principles of the communal environment protection law specified in the Treaty establishing the European Community (EEC Treaty) are:
—The principles of the integration of the environment protection policy with other communal policies. It consists in obligatory taking into consideration of environment protection requirements when establishing and realising policies and activities of the Community/European Union. It is a leading principle of realisation of the Community’s sustainable development. It is supported by strategic evaluations of environmental impact.
—The principle of prevention. It consists in obligatory taking into consideration of potential effects of all activities on natural environment before their undertaking. This principle pertains to impact on environment of both specific economic undertakings and strategic documents (plans, programmes, policies).
—The principle of foresight (precaution). It is connected with the prevention principle and its aim is to guarantee the highest standards of environment and human health protection. It consists in undertaking preventive actions in situations when science is not able to certainly evaluate potential risk of a particular enterprise. Its application requires the presence of certain conditions, that is identification of potentially dangerous effects of specific phenomena and behaviour, evaluation of scientific research results in a given case and assessment of the risk level in a particular situation.
—The principle of rectification (repairing of environmental damage at source). It consists in repairing the sources of natural environment pollution first, rather than the effects of this pollution. Environment pollution should be rectified at the earliest possible stage, at the beginning or after the development of a given enterprise, not after it is finished.
—The principle of a high level of protection. It obliges the European Union’s institutions, and especially the Commission, to apply high ecological standards to all activities undertaken by the Community.
—The principles of complex protection. It was not exactly declared in the EEC Treaty, but it can be derived form the principles contained in this treaty. It is connected with the high level of protection principle. It consists in the integrated approach to natural environment in which the protection of one element of environment does not have negative effects on the other elements (this principle is expressed in the council Directive 96/61 EC of 24 September 1996 –IPPC Directive).
—The principle “the polluter should pay”. It consists in the fact that the costs of environmental damage repair and restoration to the pre-pollution state are born by the pollution perpetrator who is legally bound to repair the damage. Also, in the case of causing pollution danger, the costs of its prevention are covered by the danger perpetrator.