MEPs back stronger EU strategic assessment law

European Parliament environment committee votes to widen screening but exclude financial plans

A future EU directive that will force government authorities to assess the effects of their working plans and programmes on the environment should be significantly strengthened, the European Parliament's environment committee said yesterday.

The committee was voting at second reading on the draft strategic environmental assessment (SEA) directive, which aims to integrate environmental concerns into various economic sectors by carrying out and publicising impact assessments at earlier stages in the planning chain than currently. The aim is to identify greener development alternatives sooner and divert resources appropriately.

Under the new law, authorities will have to screen plans and programmes to decide whether they should carry out a full SEA on them. At first reading, government limited this screening to plans and programmes that give rise directly to land and infrastructure development projects. The European Commission said this seriously weakened the scope of the directive (ENDS Daily 14 December 1999).

MEPs agreed yesterday and said that plans and programmes of any type, including conceptual ones, should be screened. No examples were given, but the changes mean a plan looking at various alternative energy sources for a particular community would be now included in the screening, for instance, even if building projects arising from the plan would be developed much later.

In other changes, MEPs strengthened the role of monitoring and public involvement in the assessment procedure. The assessment report should also highlight which planning option is best for the environment, they said, so that public and government know if it is not being chosen.

In an extension to the scope of the directive, the committee said plans benefiting from EU structural funds should be subject to an SEA from 2007, but it agreed with governments that member states' national financial plans should be exempt from the requirements. The changes will now be examined by the parliament's plenary body before returning to governments.

Follow Up:
European Parliament environment committee, tel: +32 2 284 2111. The amendments proposed by the committee will be posted on the site soon.

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