Austerity threatens environmental protection in the EU – the worst still to come
(18 June 2012) A new study reveals that in all EU countries measures have been taken that impact negatively on public spending for environmental protection.
EU members examined in the study have seen public spending being reduced impacting on public sector employment.
The study argues that this poses a risk to the implementation, monitoring and surveillance of environmental policies with a loss of efficiency and coherence being the result. It could also lead to a shift towards outsourcing certain tasks to the private sector and conflicts over general public interest versus the profit maximising interests of the companies. This will remove the EU further from realising its ambition of becoming a sustainable and green economy. The cuts come at a moment when it is generally argued and including by the European Commission that going green by investing in energy efficiency for example will help the EU out of the current financial and economic crisis. The austerity measures make such a green solution less likely.
The study underlines that the impact of the spending cuts varies from country to country:
Those countries with an austerity regime such as Greece being more affected then others. These countries have seen significant staff and budgets reductions imposed. Other countries saw a re-assessment of public spending and reorganisation as a result of belt-tightening programmes in a very short time frame such as Spain, Italy and Hungary. The full effects will be felt in 2011 and onwards.
Another group of countries saw an increase in the role and tasks of the environmental protection agencies but with the same budget leading in effect to diluting resources available.
Only in the case of Poland and Ukraine and until 2010 were no effects discernible many due to a catching up effect as both countries seek to implement various EU standards and environmental legislation. The case of Sweden was more neutral as the country promotes itself as a green forerunner.
The study is based on data until 2010. Input from national unions and other sources underlines it is highly likely that the trend to cut public expenditure for environmental protection will continue in 2011 and 2012.
The European Federation of Public Services Unions commissioned this study, believed to be the first of its kind, from the French consultancy Syndex
The studies explores the roles and functioning as well as the resources of environmental protection in several EU countries (Czech republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK) as well as the Ukraine. While there are important differences between the countries, it is largely representative for the EU. All European countries are covered by the same legal framework regarding environmental issues, with EU regulations having a significant impact on all national systems. The study reveals that countries that have been in the forefront of implementing environmental regulations have largely given an impetus to developments as European level, while countries with a more recent interest in environmental issues are working to bring their infrastructure and public policy up to the level of the rest of Europe. But the resources which are put at the disposal of the environmental protection agencies differ significantly across the EU raising questions about harmonized and comparable implementation. This is important to prevent that companies from one country have a competitive advantage over companies from another country due to inappropriate resources devoted to monitoring and surveillance.