It is difficult to provide a substantive law for every specific environmental matters. To have effective and up to date instruments, which are able to regulate and to protect our environment, the EU decided to elaborate the so called “horizontal legislation”. This category comprises several procedural pieces of law: the goal is to provide a strict procedural legislation to achieve a substantive protection. The application of this legislative framework leads to an improvement of the decision-making and legislative development through the regulation of the procedural aspect of the matter. Furthermore, the public have an essential role in guarantying an effective application of these rules: in terms of participation and as a supervisor.

The horizontal legislation covers many important areas, among them:

  • Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA Directive 2003/35/EC) of proposed development projects: This directive sets out the requirements for undertaking environmental assessments of environmental impacts of public and private projects which are likely to have a significant impact on the environment, before development consent is granted. The EIA Directive is currently under the revision.
  • Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessment of proposed plans and programs sets out an obligation for public authorities to identify and assess the potential significant environmental effects of proposed plans and programs, including those of a transboundary nature.
  • Public Access to Environmental Information and Public Participation and Access to Justice in environmental matters is guaranteed by the Aarhus Convention to which the EU is Party are implemented by the Directives 2003/4/EC, 2003/35 and the Regulation 1376/2006). The renewed proposal for the Directive on Access to Justice is currently under the public consultation.
  • Reporting Requirements defined by the Directive 91/692/EEC provides for the harmonization of sector reports on the implementation of close to 30 directives in the air, water and waste sectors.
  • The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (established by the Regulation 166/2006) is providing information about the annual quantity and nature of 91 pollutants in the air, water and land. The register covers 27 EU Member States as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia and Switzerland.
  • Environmental Liability, for which the Directive 2004/35/EC establishes a framework with a view to preventing and remedying environmental damage.


Air quality is one of the major concerns in the European Union. Therefore, the EU had and still has quite a lot of legislative acts which regulate air pollution. With its Directive 2008/50/EC, the European Union merged the existing legislation into a single act to determine a European air quality standards. The EU’s long-term objective is to achieve levels of air quality that do not result in unacceptable impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment. Tackling pollution by particulate matter and ozone will thus need to be a major priority for the next phase of the Community’s air quality policy. In addition, it will need to address remaining problems relating to acidification, eutrophication and other problems of deposition generally, including the protection of cultural heritage.


The main act providing a general legislative framework on waste management is the Directive 2008/98/EC: “the Waste Management Directive institutes a new approach to waste management that focuses on limiting impacts on human health and the environment. It introduces a waste hierarchy that prioritizes the prevention of waste, and requires Member States engagement through National Waste Prevention Programmes. The Directive extends producer responsibility for waste generation, stimulates recycling and recovery through the promotion of separate collection, and sets objectives for specific waste streams”.

Others important legislative acts adopted so far include the Directive on Packaging and Packaging waste, on Landfill management, Incineration systems, etc. However, “serious gaps persist in the implementation of the EU waste acquis due to a lack of priority in the Member States, a lack of reliable data and other impeding factors, which lead to great differences in the state and quality of implementation between Member States. The widespread use of inappropriate waste management technologies, such as landfills and other facilities that do not meet EU requirements, illegal waste shipments and other aspects of insufficient implementation create not only environmental damages, but also economic costs and harm to human health”.


The EU’s Water Framework Directive provides opportunity to restore Europe’s rivers, lakes and wetlands to ecological health by 2015 with each Member State committed to produce River Basin management Plans by 2009. The general objective of this directive is to prevent and reduce pollution, to promote sustainable water usage, environmental protection, and to improve aquatic ecosystems and to mitigate the effects of floods and droughts.


To ensure biodiversity and the protection of the natural environment in the EU, an important piece of law had been produced, the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC (on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora). It is defining a common framework for the conservation of wild plants and animals and habitats of Community interest. The Habitats Directive established the “Natura 2000” network, the largest ecological network in the world. In practice, the Directive requires “Special Areas of Conservation” to be identified, classified and designated and a management plan to be drawn up for the conservation of natural habitats and for protection of species. The main aim of the Directive is to promote the maintenance of the biodiversity, taking into account social, economic, cultural and regional requirements.

Another important piece of legislation is the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) which aims to protect all European wild birds and the habitats of listed species.


Industrial activities play an important role in the economic well-being of Europe contributing to sustainable growth. However, these activities also have a huge impact on environment. Therefore, since early days of its environmental policy development, the EU also started to develop the legislation regarding the industrial pollution and its control. The Council Directive 96/61/EC on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) from 1996 was in a heart of the environmental regulation of industrial activities in Europe. It introduced an integrated permitting procedures for 30 industrial sectors covering the pollution of water, soil and air and bases emission controls and applying a “best available technique” (BAT) concept. One of the core elements at the European level are reference documents (BREFs) which are established to describe BATs and provide associated Emission Limit Values. That means that for pollutants for which “the need of Community action has been indentified” the European Commission is mandated to propose EU wide obligatory emission limit value.

The recently adopted the Industrial Emission Directive (2010/75/EC) (IED) is the successor of the IPPC Directive and had to be transposed into national legislation by Member States by 7 January 2013.


The adoption of the Directive on the classification, packaging and labeling of dangerous substances (67/548/EEC) provided the first controls over the use of hazardous chemicals. It established a common system for the classification and labeling of such substances before they are marketed, and laid down procedures to be used to establish the hazards to human health and the environment of substances that might present a risk under conditions of normal usage. Under Directive 67/548/EEC (as amended) there are 15 classes of danger examples, among them “explosive”, “very toxic”, “carcinogenic” or “dangerous for the environment”. The directive is continually updated to take account of scientific and technical progress in the field of dangerous substances.

REACH is the Regulation 1907/2006 on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals. The aim of this Regulation is to ensure the protection of human health by the risk generated from a wrong use of chemicals. It aims to make industries responsible for assessing and managing the risk that can be posed by chemicals also ensuring the circulation of safety information to their users.

Compared to the legislation on chemical control, concern about the environmental hazards of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is more recent. Initial concerns in the early 1970s, when the potential of genetic engineering became apparent, were directed at potential risks to people, specifically laboratory staff dealing with GMOs in research and development.

Given the importance of the potential hazards of the GMOs, the EU has developed a series of legislative acts in this area. The Contained Use Directive 98/81/EC, amending Directive 90/219/EEC) covers the human health and environmental risks associated with applications of GMOs and specifically genetically modified micro-organisms (GMMs) in contained facilities.

The directive covers only applications of GMMs that do not comprise any intentional release into the environment.

The Deliberate Release Directive 2001/18/EC amending Directive 90/220/EEC) covers the human health and environmental risks associated with the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms, defined as being any biological entity capable of replication or of transferring genetic material in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. This Directive is based on the application of the precautionary principle concerning risk assessment and possible authorization for use of GMOs. It imposes different requirements for deliberate releases of GMOs for research and development purposes d releases for the placing on the market of products containing GMOs.


At European level a comprehensive package of policy measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been initiated through the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP), its goal is to identify and develop all the necessary elements of an EU strategy to implement the Kyoto Protocol. Furthermore, in 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU Adaptation Strategy which has been welcomed by the Member States. Complementing activities of Member States, the strategy supports action by promoting greater coordination and information-sharing between Member States, and by ensuring that adaptation considerations are addressed in all relevant EU policies.

Various issues are strictly linked to the Climate Change challenge: the reduction of pollutant emissions, the use of renewable energy sources and the energy efficiency. All these aspects can effectively contribute to the reduction of the Climate Change impact on our lives and environment.

A specific legislation has been produced in this field:

  • Greenhouse Gas Monitoring and Reporting
  • EU Emissions Trading System
  • Effort Sharing Decision
  • Carbon Capture and Storage
  • Transport/Fuels
  • Ozone Layer Protection
  • Fluorinated Gases


The Environmental Noise Directive 2002/49/EC aims to “define a common approach intended to avoid, prevent or reduce on a prioritized basis the harmful effects, including annoyance, due to the exposure to environmental noise”. The actions promoted by the Directive are the same that characterize the other European Environmental Policy, such as: monitoring the environmental problems, informing and consulting the public, addressing local noise issues and developing a long term EU strategy. The Environmental Noise Directive applies to noise to which humans are exposed, particularly in built-up areas, in public parks or other quiet areas in an agglomeration, in quiet areas in open country, near schools, hospitals and other noise-sensitive buildings and areas (Article 2.1).


There are two main pieces of legislation that cover European civil protection, these being Council Decision 2007/779/EC, Euratom establishing a Community Civil Protection Mechanism (recast) and Council Decision establishing a Civil Protection Financial Instrument (2007/162/EC, Euratom). The Community Civil Protection Mechanism and the Civil Protection Financial Instrument together cover three of the main aspects of the disaster management cycle – prevention, preparedness and response. The Mechanism itself covers response and some preparedness actions, whereas the Financial Instrument enables actions in all three fields. The two pieces of legislation are moreover complementary as the Financial Instrument finances the Mechanism.


Sources and useful links