In the past, soil protection had been addressed indirectly through measures aimed at the protection of air and water or developed within sectoral policies. Nowadays, soil protection refers not simply to the physical soil itself but to the soil as part of a functioning and living ecosystem that provides all the eco-services.
An important advance has been the inclusion of plans for a thematic strategy on soil protection in the sixth environment action programme and the adoption of a Commission Communication on soil protection, endorsed by the European Council. European Commission analyzed and described the threats being faced by the soils of Europe in document known as “Towards a Thematic Strategy of Soil Protection” or more simply the “Soil Communication”. EC proposed a series of environmental measures, designed to prevent soil degradation, including legislation related to mining, waste, sewage sludge and compost and integrating soil-protection concerns in major EU policies. The actual Thematic Strategy on soil protection was adopted by the EC in September 2006. In it, the EC has proposed to the Council and the European Parliament the adoption of a framework directive. The Strategy and the proposal have been sent to the other European Institutions for the further steps in the decision-making process. The adoption of Thematic Strategy by EC has given formal recognition of the severity of the soil and degradation processes in Europe.
Since there is stated that there is no EU legislation dealing with soil protection on its own right there is the necessity for a comprehensive regulatory framework approach for soil protection. This framework should not replace current regulations which already contribute to soil protection but act as an umbrella aiming at the coordination of the implementation of regulations already exist or amendments concerning soil contamination as well as improving current regulations if soil is not addressed sufficiently. A proposal for a Soil Frame Directive is under discussion among member States where a framework for the protection of soil, its sustainable use and preservation of soil function is subject to the co-decision procedure.
In accordance with the Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection (COM 2006 231 final) actions and means should be oriented to ensure sustainable use of soil.
Against this background, the Commission considers that “a comprehensive EU strategy for soil protection is required. This strategy should take into account all the different functions that soils can perform, their variability and complexity and the range of different degradation processes to which they can be subject, while also considering socio-economic aspects.
The overall objective is protection and sustainable use of soil, based on the following guiding principles:
1. Preventing further soil degradation and preserving its functions:
– when soil is used and its functions are exploited, action has to be taken on soil use and management patterns, and
– when soil acts as a sink/receptor of the effects of human activities or environmental phenomena, action has to be taken at source.
2. Restoring degraded soils to a level of functionality consistent at least with current and intended use, thus also considering the cost implications of the restoration of soil”.
Having examined different options, the Commission proposes a Framework Directive as the best means of ensuring a comprehensive approach to soil protection whilst fully respecting subsidiary.
Member States will be required to take specific measures to address soil threats, but the Directive leaves to them ample freedom on how to implement this requirement. This means that risk acceptability, the level of ambition regarding the targets to be achieved and the choice of measures to reach those targets are left to Member States.
According to the Directive, the certain threats to soil such as erosion, organic matter decline, contamination, that may occur in specific risk areas must be identified.
For soil contamination a national or regional approach is recommended as being more appropriate. The proposal sets up a framework for adopting, at the appropriate geographical and administrative level, plans to address the threats where they occur.
With respect to management of contamination, an approach based on the following approach is envisaged:
According to the Directive, management of contamination sites must be implemented on the basis of two requirements:
- Identification of contaminated sites and establishment a national remediation strategy
- Prevention of contamination via a requirement to limit the introduction of dangerous substances into the soil
Update on the Soil Thematic Strategy
Some five years after the adoption of the Soil Thematic Strategy, on 13 February 2012 the European Commission published a policy report on the implementation of the Strategy and ongoing activities (COM(2012) 46).
The report provides an overview of the actions undertaken by the European Commission to implement the four pillars of the Strategy, namely awareness raising, research, integration, and legislation. It underlines that at the March 2010 Environment Council a minority of Member States blocked further progress on the proposed Soil Framework Directive and that the proposal remains on the Council's table. It also presents current soil degradation trends both in Europe and globally, as well as future challenges to ensure protection.
The report invites the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions to submit their views on it in order to protect European soils, while at the same time ensuring their sustainable use.
- Available in all EU official languages under http://ec.europa.eu/environment/soil/three_en.htm.
- This report is supported by a JRC reference report on 'The State of Soil in Europe', EUR 25186 EN, which is available under http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/jrc/index.cfm?id=2540.
- Environment: Commission calls for a stronger response to soil degradation (The press release)