Urban Environment Focus of European Public Consultation

BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 29, 2005 (ENS) - The European Commission is seeking input from the public on a new European strategy to improve the urban environment in Europe and also reduce the impact that cities have on the wider environment. Environmental groups are pleased that the strategy consultation is moving ahead as it was nearly derailed last week over concerns that environmental protection might hamper business competitiveness.

London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Athens, Lisbon - in many cities, poor air quality, noise, heavy traffic, neglect of the built environment, poor environmental management and a lack of strategic planning have led to a lower quality of life, health problems and even premature deaths.

Cities also have a considerable impact on the environment, producing large volumes of greenhouse gases, air pollution and waste, and consuming large amounts of resources.


Traffic pollutes the air on the Avenue de Champs-Élysées in Paris, France. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
The Commission is inviting members of the public and local governments to give their views on these issues via the Internet. The consultation will run until September 21, 2005.

The strategy is due to be proposed by the Commission in December 2005.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, “Most of us live in cities so the quality of our urban environment is an issue of daily concern. European environmental legislation is already delivering cleaner air, improved wastewater treatment and many other benefits. We are now looking to see how we can best exploit the positive links between these laws, and how best to support local authorities in their efforts to improve the urban environment. We are seeking the views of citizens and experts alike on this.”

The Internet consultation launched Thursday provides an opportunity for the largest possible number of people to express their views on the quality of the urban environment where they live and work.

The consultation asks questions concerning the importance people attach to living in a high quality environment and what measures respondents are prepared to take themselves to improve the quality and performance of their own city.

More technical questions primarily addressed to national and local authorities, and to experts, concern the importance of learning from other cities and the most effective way to achieve this.

These issues are often tackled separately but Dimas says more can be achieved by promoting integrated approaches as problems such as air quality or urban sprawl are common to most European cities.

"There are clear opportunities at the European level to develop, share and facilitate the implementation of appropriate solutions, while recognizing that these need to be adapted to the local conditions," said Dimas.

The upcoming EU strategy on the urban environment is one of a series of what are known as thematic strategies to be adopted this year by the Commission, as set out in the 6th Environment Action Programme.

Other thematic strategies to be presented between September and December concern waste, air pollution, natural resources, the marine environment, pesticides, and soil.


Waste is piling up across Europe, which is running out of landfill space. (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
The European Environmental Bureau, of EEB, the largest federation of environmental citizens organizations in Europe, welcomes the thematic strategies process, which was nearly discarded last week due to President Jose Barroso's concern that environmental policymaking could have a negative impact on the competitiveness of Europe's business.

The College of Commissioners had a special debate July 20 on whether or not to proceed with the environmental strategies. Most commissioners supported Commissioner Dimas' view that environmental protection is good for business.

John Hontelez, secretary general of the EEB said, "We are glad that a large majority of the commissioners have supported Environment Commissioner Dimas in his plea to see environmental policies both as necessary for Europe and positive for economic development.

"In the last few weeks, we got increasingly concerned that this Commission would alienate European citizens further from the EU institutions by dumping the environmental agenda," said Hontelez. "In the end, also thanks to the interventions of civil society organizations and a range of governments, wisdom has prevailed, for now at least."

Hontelez said, "While we welcome the decision to move on with these strategies, we have serious concerns about the expected content of several of them."

"In particular we are deeply worried about the Waste Strategy," he said, "which might weaken existing EU laws and policies rather than move us forward."

Thematic strategies represent a modern way of policymaking, Commissioner Dimas explained. They take a broad view and set out a package of measures to achieve their goal.

The thematic strategy on the urban environment takes a geographically defined approach and integrates different policies at the local level. The strategies are developed on the basis of extensive knowledge and consultation. This consultation will provide input to allow the strategy on the urban environment to be completed.

The Urban Environment questionnaire is available by clicking here.

The Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment site is found here.