3rd EPA Network plenary meeting, Stirling

The Network of European Environment Protection Agencies held its 3rd meeting in Stirling, UK, on 9 10 September 2004. There were representatives from agencies from 28 countries, as well as from the European Commission and the European Environment Agencies. The meeting was hosted jointly by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Environment Agency for England and Wales, who both provided an overview of the UK environment at the start of the meeting.

In the first session, the network continued discussions on agriculture and the environment, performance evaluation and organisational efficiency, and the sustainable use of natural resources on the basis of presentations and papers from the interest groups set up at the last meeting (in Rome) to address these topics.

The Environment Agency for England and Wales led the discussion on agriculture and the environment. It was agreed that the interest group would continue under the leadership of the England and Wales Agency and hopefully involve more participants. A workshop would be held on cost-benefit analyses looking at methodologies and definitions etc. with support from the Netherlands and the Czech Republic; the possibility of defining a piece of work in this field which could be carried out by the European Environment Agency would be explored. A seminar on rural development regulation, with Commission officials, would be aimed for (European Environment Agency, DG Environment, England and Wales Agency). It was agreed to gather evidence on the relationship between agriculture and natural resource protection (England and Wales Agency, the Netherlands, European Environment Agency). There was also interest in looking at the impacts of GMOs (Germany, Italy, Poland, Ireland, Hungary, Finland). Finally, the European Environment Agency would lead work on scenarios with support from Germany, England and Wales, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Norway and Italy.

The work on performance evaluation, good practices and organisational efficiency was presented by the Italian EPA, on behalf also of the Swedish EPA. The overview of EPAs' priority issues was illustrated. It was agreed that the IG would continue its work with specific actions on: a) defining a minimum set of general criteria for identifying good practices among EPAs, building on the work carried out by the Swedish EPA and the Dutch Ministry of the Environment for selecting best results from the EU LIFE Environment Programme, while leaving more specific examples/case studies to other topical IGs; b) contacting the OECD, through EEA, to explore links to their environmental performance reviews; c) continue sharing information on the organisational efficiency of EPAs as related to overall environmental governance, taking into account the experience of regional and local EPAs and keeping in mind that EMS applied to EPAs is important but a small part of the overall issue; d) continue sharing information regarding performance evaluations; e) organise a face-to-face meeting, in conjunction with other ones to save time and resources.

The Umweltbundesamt, Germany, presented the work of the interest group on sustainable use of natural resources. The network agreed to continue the interest group led by Germany and the European Environment Agency and to produce a paper defining the issue and developing common views on targets, measures etc. to feed into the development of the thematic strategy by the Commission. The work will distinguish between materials and resources and cover both.

The second session looked at climate change and scenarios. Presentations were made by the England and Wales Agency, the Agency for Environment Protection and Technical Services, Italy, the Environmental Agency for the Republic of Slovenia, and the European Environment Agency. EPAs exchanged information on work both on mitigation of and adaptation to climate change and underlined the importance of tackling the second issue while continuing to address the first. It was agreed to establish an interest group on climate change and adaptation (led by Germany) to look at adaptation issues in general and specifically the provision of public information on flood risk based on flood risk mapping (Slovenia, England and Wales, the Netherlands, Finland). The group will also exchange information on methodologies for vulnerability mapping (Germany, Slovenia, Italy). All EPAs were encouraged to follow the GMES/Inspire process closely.

The topic of the third session was 'improving environmental regulation' (in the widest sense) at both national and European levels. The England and Wales Agency, the Agency for Environment Protection and Technical Services, Italy, the European Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency gave presentations highlighting experiences, initiatives and issues. Examples of modern, risk-based approaches were examined, but some of the institutional and political barriers to better governance were also highlighted. It was agreed to establish an interest group on 'better regulation' (led by England and Wales) with Sweden, Italy, Scotland and Ireland to continue the exchange of information on this question and to identify possible input into the ongoing Commission work in this field.

The fourth session addressed environment and human health. Presentations were made by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the European Environment Agency. It was agreed to establish an interest group on environment and health led by the European Environment Agency to develop this area of work.

Finally, the EPAs agreed that the main item on the agenda of the next meeting will be to review progress in the various interest groups (one day). The meeting will also share experience on the implementation of the Aarhus Convention (on access to information etc.) and there will be an opportunity for members to discuss areas of interest in smaller groups. The meeting will be held in Slovenia on 10-11 March 2005. Before the meeting proper there will be a possibility for interest groups to meet.

The organising committee for the next meeting is composed of Slovenia, the Czech Republic, the UK, Austria and the European Environment Agency.

It was also agreed that the network should request a meeting with the new Environment Commissioner, Mr Stavros Dimas, for his convenience in Brussels.