Environmental legislation in the EEA


The main legislation in the area of water protection is the Water Framework Directive (2000/60). Its objective is to have cleaner rivers, lakes, groundwater and coastal waters.

The Water Framework Directive sets out objectives for the quality of water (ecological status, quantitative status, chemical status and protected area objectives). EFTA States are required to prepare river basin management plans which set out how the objectives set out in the Directive for river basins will be reached within the applicable time scales.


EEA rules relating to air are intended to protect the environment and human health from air pollution.

EEA air legislation is intended to limit the maximum levels of pollutants in ambient air. The rules are set out in Directive 2008/50 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe.

EEA air legislation also regulates emissions of certain pollutants by industry.


The EEA's approach to waste management is based on the "waste hierarchy" which sets the following priority order when shaping waste policy and managing waste at the operational level: prevention, (preparing for) reuse, recycling, recovery and, as the least preferred option, disposal (which includes landfilling and incineration without energy recovery).

Directive 2008/98/EC on waste provides a framework regulating basic concepts and definitions related to waste management and lays down waste management. In addition to this Framework Directive there is several pieces of legislation regulating waste treatment operations such as landfills and incineration. Moreover, there are EEA acts providing provision for specific waste streams; such as waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), end of life vehicles (ELV) and packaging waste.

To address the problem of uncontrolled transport of waste, Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 on shipments of waste lays down procedures for the transboundary shipments (i.e. transport) of waste. This Regulation implements into EEA law the provisions of the "Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal". The Regulation includes a ban on the export of hazardous wastes to non-OECD countries ("Basel ban") as well as a ban on the export of waste for disposal.

Industrial emissions

The Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75) lays down the main principles for regulating pollutant emissions from industrial installations.The Directive is based on an integrated approach and the application of best available techniques in order to achieve a high level of environmental protection, while taking into account the costs and benefits (BAT).

Sectoral directives lay down specific minimum requirements for certain industrial activities, such as large combustion plants, waste incineration, activities using organic solvent and titanium dioxide production.

The European Pollution Register and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) is a register of industrial emissions into air, water and land, as well as of off-site transfers of waste. It contains data for the 30 EEA States and is accessible to the public on its dedicated website.

Environmental impact assessment

The EEA Agreement provides for environmental impact assessments.  Individual project sare covered by the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (2011/92) e.g. industrial plants, motorways, etc. More systematic projects, such as plans, programmes and policies fall under the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (2001/42).

Environmental impact assessment is a procedure that ensures that the environmental implications of decisions are assessed before those decisions are made. This involves an analysis of the likely effect on the environment of a project or programme and the drafting of a report. A public consultation on the report is then carried out. Both the report and any comments must be taken into account when the final decision is adopted.


EEA law regulates the release of genetically modified organisms (GMO). It lays down the rules governing the system of approval of marketing and release of GMO's. The rules apply, in particular, to the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs and the import, distribution and industrial processing of genetically modified food and animal feed. They also regulate the contained use of genetically modified micro-organisms.

Other issues

EEA law also regulates other aspects of environmental protection, including:

  • Liability for environmental damage
  • Industrial risk (SEVESO)
  • Noise
  • Eco-management and audit schemes
  • Eco-labelling

However, certain areas regulated at EU level have not been included into the EEA Agreement. They include:

  • Directives on nature protection (Habitats and Birds Directives)
  • Certain directives in the area of water protection (bathing water, shellfish waters, surface fresh waters and fish waters Directives)

Relevant links

Other EEA Institutions

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