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Towards a greater synergy between cohesion and environmental policy

At the initiative of Commissioners Monika Wulf-Mathies and Ritt Bjerregaard, the European Commission has adopted a Communication outlining different options for achieving greater synergy between cohesion and environmental policies within the implementation of Structural Fund p...
At the initiative of Commissioners Monika Wulf-Mathies and Ritt Bjerregaard, the European Commission has adopted a Communication outlining different options for achieving greater synergy between cohesion and environmental policies within the implementation of Structural Fund programmes and the application of the Cohesion Fund.

In the past, environmental protection and socio-economic development have often been perceived as conflicting objectives. However, there is now an increasing awareness that environment and regional development are, in fact, complementary:

- The fact that the environment itself is a major factor for regional development is often ignored or underestimated. Natural resources like water, air and soil are of major environmental and socio-economic importance. The quality of the environment determines the attractiveness of the region and, as such, is a major factor influencing investment;

- The environment is also an important area of new employment. Besides the jobs generated by the construction and maintenance of environment-friendly infrastructures, more and more attention is given to the employment potential offered by the so-called "eco-business";

- Environmental training and an adequate human resources policy are of twofold importance for sustainable regional development. On the one hand, they can help the labour force to adapt to changed skill demands and, at the same time, assist the region's conversion towards more environmentally sustainable industries and sectors. On the other hand, they increase public awareness of environmental protection issues and thus raise public support for sustainable development.

Cohesion policy has both a direct and an indirect impact on the environment. The Cohesion Fund and the Structural Funds directly support environmental infrastructure within the eligible Member States or regions. Direct environmental support measures include the protection and management of water resources, the collection, treatment and recycling of waste, as well as actions to clean up coastal areas and river basins. Activities also include the rehabilitation of industrial areas and the upgrading of deprived urban areas.

Between 1989 and 1993, around ECU 2.8 billion - about 7% of the Structural Funds budget in Objectives 1, 2 and 5b areas - was spent on direct environmental measures. For the period 1994-1999 an investment of more than ECU 9.4 billion for the support of environmental measures is foreseen. In this context, it should be stressed that the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund are the Union's largest financial contributor to environmental actions.

The Cohesion Fund and the Structural Funds also support many projects that have an indirect impact on the environment and play an important role in preventing environmental problems from developing in the future. This can be seen in areas such as:

- Public transport;
- Environmentally friendly products and technology in enterprises, especially SMEs;
- Energy- and water-saving technologies and renewable energy;
- Services related to "green" tourism, health, organic farming and nature conservation.

The Commission's Communication proposes a number of measures aimed at achieving even greater synergy between Cohesion and Environmental policy. Within the existing legal framework of the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund, the Commission believes it can play an important role in the encouragement, screening and coordination of national practices. The Communication, however, stresses that this should be managed in a climate of partnership rather than obligation. Specific proposals include:

- Within the context of the Cohesion Fund, the Commission proposes that Member States aim at a 50/50 distribution between transport and the environment as an allocation target. As regards the implementation of this target, the Commission will, in partnership with the Member States concerned, adopt a flexible approach particularly as regards the timing, the characteristics of individual projects and development needs;

- The Commission will intensify work aimed at increasing understanding of the impact of measures that could have an indirect effect on the environment, with the goal of using that knowledge for the upcoming review of programmes. It will also consider further options for environmental pilot projects under the Structural Funds;

- The Commission wishes to improve the monitoring and evaluation of environmental aspects of programmes. As the implementation of the programmes is under the competence of the Member States, it is important to note that the necessary improvement of monitoring and evaluation can only be achieved in close cooperation with them and, where appropriate, the regions concerned;

- The Commission wants to strengthen the selection criteria for future projects so that they not only reflect the need of compliance with environmental rules, but also reflect economic, social and environmental sustainability. Furthermore, the Commission will, in the future, seek to play a more active role in the prevention of infringements of environmental rules within the operation of the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund;

- In order to increase transparency and the environmental quality of Cohesion Policy, the Commission supports the idea of dialogue between the parties most concerned by a project, including non-governmental environmental organizations. In addition, the responsible authorities in the Member States will be encouraged to improve publicity on the programming documents and their implementation.

The Commission's Communication will now be sent to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.
DE
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