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The Environmental Implementation Review and Italy: when governance matters as much as substance

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The Environmental Implementation Review and Italy: when governance matters as much as substance - © Daniel Plan/Unsplash

The implementation of EU environmental law is one of the most critical aspects of environmental protection in Europe. The 7th EU Environment Action Programme included implementation as one of the top nine priority objectives of the EU environmental action up to 2020. As noted in a previous post by Mariachiara Alberton, it is not by chance that this year’s Green Week has been dedicated to implementation.

Within this framework, in April 2019 the European Commission published the second Environmental Implementation Review – EIR (the first was out in 2017) with a view to both identifying the root causes of limited enactment of EU environmental law in Member States and to proposing possible solutions. In the words of the Commission, the “reports [released in 2017 and 2019] aim to stimulate debate on shared environmental challenges in the EU and on the most effective ways to address the most pressing implementation gaps across Member States” (EIR 2019: Policy Background). The EIR 2019 found a number of significant gaps in all Member States in all sectors of EU environmental legislation ranging from waste management to water quality, air pollution, biodiversity conservation, and others.

Beyond highlighting general trends, the EIR 2019 also includes country specific reports that analyze in detail how and to what extent implementation occurred in each Member State. The country report on Italy is interesting not only because it has identified the priority areas where most urgent action is needed but also because it points to some distinctive governance factors that may help to explain implementation gaps.

The report on Italy first highlights that, although some progress has been made compared to the 2017 review, the most problematic sectors for the implementation of EU environmental law remain waste management, the treatment of urban waste-water, air quality and emission reductions, and the designation and conservation status of Natura 2000 sites. Notably the European Court of Justice found in March 2019 that Italy continues to have 44 landfill sites that are not in line with the requirements of Directive 1999/31 on the landfill of waste because these have not been subject to the authorization procedure foreseen in the directive (Judgment in Case C-498/17).

It is interesting to note that, according to this report, among the underlying—and often understudied—reasons for the lack of implementation or insufficient implementation some are related to governance. In this respect, one of the major problems in Italy is the lack of effective coordination among national, regional and local authorities when it comes to adopting and implementing either environmental rules or legislative and administrative standards related to the protection of the environment, such as those in the fields of land use, agriculture, and territorial planning. In line with this finding, the report on Italy observes that, even in the most problematic sectors for the implementation of EU environmental law in Italy, differences in the local administration are huge both between regions and even within regions. For instance, when it comes to waste management, the report indicates that the huge differences in percentages of landfilled waste that are found in Italian regions are related to the different economic incentives implemented regionally. Concerning conservation standards, regional planning is indicated in the report as a crucial factor for building ecological corridors and preserving ecosystem services. In the field of air quality, huge differences are noted between urbanized and less urbanized areas. Finally, regarding water quality, regions have adopted different standards to determine the significance of water pressure.

According to the report on Italy, the multilevel governance of the environment in the country needs to be strengthened also from another perspective, namely with regard to public participation in environmental decision-making, which is currently very limited. This problem in turn is linked to the need to increase the administrative capacity of the Italian public administration and the need to improve transparency and access to information in public decision-making.

The report on Italy confirms that governance is at the heart of the correct implementation of EU environmental law and, ultimately, of the effective protection of the environment. These findings are an opportunity for Italy to reconsider in a new light the debate about the distribution of legal and administrative powers in the field of environmental protection and in related areas. While addressing some environmental issues is inherently local, the State must ensure a supportive and consistent coordination role. It seems however that, as argued elsewhere, the exclusive legislative competence in the hands of the State has not resulted in this level of coordination.


Federica Cittadino EUreka! Eurac research blogsPhD in International Studies (2017, University of Trento), Federica is Senior Researcher in Environmental Law at the Institute for Comparative Studies, Eurac Research. Her research focuses on the legal governance of the environment, especially concerning biodiversity law and water law. She wants to contribute to the debate about how to divide environmental powers across different governance levels in ways that truly promote the protection of the environment. Federica is also an avid reader of novels, a movie connoisseur and a loving mum.

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