Overview of European Union Environmental Legislation


Environmental Liability Directive 2004/35/EC on environmental liability with regard to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage. The Directive establishes responsibility to those responsible for environmental damage, the polluter pays principle.

Energy Efficiency Directive

The 2012/27/EU Energy Efficiency Directive establishes a 20% energy efficiency target to be achieved by 2020. In 2016 the European Commission proposed a new 30% energy efficiency target for 2030 and plans additional measure to ensure that the new target is achieved. Article 8 of the EED requires Member States to require large companies to undertake energy audits. The first audit was required early December 2015 and every four years thereafter. A large corporation is a non-SME defined as less than 250 employees and which have an annual turnover of less than 50 million euros and/or an annual balance sheet total not exceed 43 million euros. For chemical companies, the energy audit is required to establish existing energy consumption of industrial operations. It must be conducted by a qualified body, identifying and quantifying cost-effective energy saving opportunities, reporting the findings. However, the audit may be implemented through an energy management system. 

Renewable Energy Directive 

The 2009/28/EC Renewable Energy Directive establishes an overall policy for the production and promotion of energy from renewable sources in the EU. According to the Directive, the EU must fulfil at least 20% of its total energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. Member States are required to ensure that at least 10% of transport fuels come from renewable sources by 2020. The EU is set to increase the renewables target to 27% by 2030, aiming to be a global leader in renewable energy. 

Industrial Emissions Directive 

The 2010/75/EC Industrial Emissions Directive (integrated pollution prevention and control) recast seven pieces of legislation on industrial emissions. The Directive is aimed mainly at industrial installations with significant pollution potential, such as chemical industries and waste management facilities and operates through a permit system. An integrated approach, taking into account all environmental activities e.g. emissions, chemical use, waste is incorporated to ensure a high level of environmental protection. Permits include emission limit values, based on Best Available Techniques and include provisions on energy efficiency, waste minimisation and site restoration.

The requirements include a degree of flexibility by allowing Competent Authorities to take into account the technical characteristics of the installation, geographical location and local environmental conditions. The Directive also facilitates for public involvement in the decision making processes, for example by submitting opinions on permit applications.

The Waste Framework Directive 

The 2008/98/EC Waste Framework Directive (WFD) provides the framework for the collection, transport, recovery and disposal of waste. It incorporates a common definition of waste, recycling and recovery and identifies how to distinguish between waste and by-products. The WFD also incorporates an explanation of when waste ceases to be waste and becomes a secondary raw material. Waste must be managed without endangering human health, causing environmental damage, or nuisance through noise or odour. A waste management hierarchy is defined in priority order: 

Prevention > Re-use > Recycling > Recovery > Disposal

The Directive embraces the polluter pays principle and ‘extended producer responsibility’ (see separate page) and includes permitting, registration and inspection requirements. Member States are required to take appropriate measures to encourage recycling and other environmentally responsible initiatives. 

The Water Framework Directive

The Water Framework Directive is widely reported to be one of the most ambitious pieces of environmental legislation, in its holistic approach to environmental management. Industrial activities such as effluent discharge are addressed alongside the physical impacts of coastal defences. The aim of the WFD is to achieve ‘Good’ ecological status for all rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater, which is measured by the quality of the water environment to sustain plant and animal communities, alongside water quality itself.

A European Directive is a guiding legislative instrument that each European Member State must transpose into national legislation, within defined timescales and can therefore be subject to interpretation and variation across Member States. A regulation does not require transposition into national law and is binding on Member States, resulting in uniform implementation and applicability at the same time. As Directives, the environmental legislation of the EU has been criticised for non-uniform implementation across Member States.