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Meeting of the Working Group on Strategic and Project Environmental Assessments

As part of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Working Group on Strategic and Project Environmental Assessments met online to discuss all current issues in the field, including the European Commission's instructions on defining plans and programmes which are subject to a strategic environmental assessment, and some examples of best practice, as well as infringements from EU member states.

As an example of best practice, Slovenia presented the recently completed strategic environmental assessment for the Maritime Spatial Plan of the Republic of Slovenia to all member states and opened a discussion on the assessments of acceptability for protected areas.

The Commission presented difficulties in transposing the Directive on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, which result from the inaccurate transposition of the Directive. As compliance with projects under the Directive is fundamental to drawing on all EU funds, including the Resilience and Recovery Facility, it called on all countries to regulate their legislation as soon as possible.

The necessity of proper legislative transposition and obligations of states arising from Article 4 of the EU Treaty (principle of cooperation) was emphasised. The content of the assessments emphasised the consideration of the cumulative impact and monitoring, as well as effective inspections. The discussion underlined that environmental assessments make an important contribution to sustainable projects and the reduction of environmental impact, and that their positive contribution to development should therefore be emphasised. The legal possibility for non-compliance with the acquis was also considered, which the EU court called “a posteriori” and can only apply to rare cases of infringement. The group also discussed the ongoing lawsuit before the European Court of Justice in the field of environmental assessments, which account for a third of all lawsuits relating to the environment. They explained the principle of “no significant harm” which is applicable to EU funding and presented an extensive list prepared by the Commission to examine projects from an environmental perspective: climate change – mitigation and adaptation measures, sustainable use and protection of waters, protection against pollution and control, protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems, and the circular economy. It is important that the content of these aspects is fully addressed in strategic assessments, so project applications can be made faster.