Raising the ecological dividend of the EU budget

On Thursday a coalition of some of Europe’s biggest ‘green’ NGOs has released a detailed and very interesting report titled “Changing Perspectives – how the EU budget can shape a sustainable future”. The authors from BirdLife, CEE Bankwatch, Conservation International, European Environment Bureau (EEB), Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE), Transport and Environment (T&E) and WWF first line out ten principles and then offer a detailed analysis with suggestions for the future for each of the big spending policies. They single out climate change, biodiversity and resource efficiency as the core challenges for a future budget.

The report bases its suggestions on an analysis of the current multi-annual financial framework for which green rhetoric clearly does not match spending reality. For example only 2.7% of cohesion & structural funds or 6.8% of the CAP are going to climate-friendly activities. Another figure only counts about 8% of expenditures as climate-friendly. Given that these are the biggest spending blocks, one should get worried.While there are multiple opportunities for more sustainable investments even with the current budget, much of it goes by unused. In view of the future, the authors therefore suggest to base the design of programmes and the overall package on the following ten principles:

  • Public money for public goods and ecosystem services – the EU Budget should provide for public goods, such as the preservation of biodiversity, ecosystems, climate stability, water quality, air quality and soil quality.
  • Targeted spending – the EU Budget should support a limited number of priorities which are clearly identified and justified.
  • Coherence within and across European policies and instruments – European spending should not undermine any EU policy objectives or the effectiveness of other European policies.
  • Maximising EU leverage – the EU Budget should concentrate on projects that deliver the most public benefits at European level and reflect European priorities.
  • Long term cost effectiveness – the EU Budget should support solutions which are the most cost-effective over time.
  • Integrated strategy – the EU Budget should be the result of an integrated strategy, to ensure coherence.
  • Transparency – the EU Budget should provide full disclosure of its spending in a timely and accessible fashion.
  • Partnership – the EU Budget should apply binding rules for meaningful public participation and partnership of all relevant stakeholders.
  • Accountability – European payments should ensure the achievement of targets and comply with the requirements that are attached to the payment schemes.
  • Environmental proofing (climate, energy efficiency, biodiversity and resource use) – European payments must be assessed, prior to implementation, to ensure that they do not produce negative effects or undermine European climate, energy, biodiversity and resource objectives.

The report makes a useful reading because it provides concrete suggestions for all the main spending areas. Thanks to the long involvement and expertise of the NGOs behind the report, useful suggestions are made for each of the relevant policies.

Unfortunately, the report limits itself to expenditures and I hope a group of NGOs also comes together with a common view of funding the EU of the future. On this issue there seems to be more division. This is sad given the importance of taxation issues in steering towards more sustainable modes of production and consumption.

Jan Seifert

About Jan Seifert

Jan Seifert is a PhD student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS). His research focus is on transparency, the European Union and its budget. Prior to his move to Singapore, he has worked, inter alia, in the team for environmental policy and sustainability at the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin, as freelance contributor to followthemoney.eu, a blog about the EU budget and three years as assistant to a senior member of the European Parliament’s Budget Committee. He was President of The Young European Federalists from 2005 to 2007.