Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) were developed as formalised tools to
predict environmental pressures of proposed projects since the 1960ies. In the
EU, the “EIA Directive” has been in place for 25 years. It provides a framework
within which each member state can find its own ways to implement EIA
legislation that is coherent with the scopes and minimum standards of community
law. This subsidiarity of the EIA directive creates a conflict between
harmonisation and autonomy: Too stringent regimes will fail to acknowledge local
environmental conditions; too loose ones will create different economic
conditions under which companies should operate in different EU member states.
This thesis seeks to evaluate the degree of divergence in EIA laws between
individual member states: A comparative study on the EIA laws of Germany,
Austria and the United Kingdom (specifically England and Wales). Despite the
fact that all three countries have relatively advanced environmental legislation,
significant differences could be identified. These lie primarily in the
screening procedure (determination if an EIA is mandatory); but also in the
implementation of the EIA into the general clearance proceeding; the formal
criteria that are required for this clearance; and the structure and contents of
the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
In the light of these findings and the results of recent evaluation reports, it
seems reasonable to conclude that a harmonisation especially in the screening
procedure is necessary. Unequal assessments of similar projects in different
member states that have similar environmental circumstances could lead to
resistance on behalf of the project owners. Furthermore, more recent sources of
environmental law such as the directive on Strategic Environmental Assessments
(SEA) will have to be incorporated in a harmonised fashion. The findings of this
thesis support the view that there is a great need for standardising several
key-aspects of Environmental Impact Assessments on the level of community law.
This study assessed the degree of divergence of Environmental Impact
Assessment (EIA) legislation in three countries of the European Union: Germany,
Austria and the United Kingdom. Seven areas were assessed in particularly high
detail and compared to the minimum standards as required by the EIA Directive of
the European Union.
These seven key areas were: (1) The implementation of EIA into the general
clearance procedure; (2) objective and definition of a project; (3) screening
legislation; (4) structure and scope of EIA practice; (5) criteria for a
clearance; (6) duration of EIA; and (7) stakeholder views on screening practice.
Over-all, Austria appears to have significantly more stringent EIA regime than
Germany or the United Kingdom. The seven areas assessed, however, are known to
be particularly strictly managed in Austria. A need for harmonisation could be
determined in particular for the screening procedures, for which national and
even regional authorities have a great deal of discretion; the level of detail
to which the contents of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) have to go; as
well as the extent to which clearance criteria are defined. The findings for
each of the seven points are briefly outlined below.
1.) The implementation of EIA into the general clearance procedure: Austria is
the only country in which the EIA is a single, centralised proceeding that takes
prevalence over other proceedings that contribute to the clearance of a proposed
project. Furthermore, the administration in Austria is more straight-forward and
centralised than in Germany or the United Kingdom, where regional laws (Germany
and the UK) or project-specific rules (United Kingdom) can apply for a clearance.
EIAs in the United Kingdom are embedded in a rather complex array of individual
2.) Objective and definition of a project: Both Germany and Austria follow
basically the same lines in this area and define project more or less the way
the EIA directive requires it. In the case of the UK, there is no theoretic
definition of the word. There are, however, clear criteria for features to
determine a “project” defined in the law.
3.) Screening legislation: Screening is a very sensitive issue, because it is
the most crucial area for national divergences. All three countries compared lay
down their screening criteria in the annexes of their EIA laws. Even though they
do diverge significantly, this does not necessarily mean that EIA practice
diverges, too. For example, Austria is the only of the three countries that
requires projects involving genetically modified organisms to undergo an EIA;
however, this does not mean that such projects will not be assessed in Germany
or the UK. There, the discretion of authorities might allow them to decide
case-by-case if an EIA will be required. The divergence on the level of the
legislation is an interesting finding; further studies of screening practice
might lead to even more significant findings.
4.) Structure and scope of EIA practice: All three countries’ EIA laws are very
closely aligned with the EIA directive. Austria has very few, but significant
divergences insofar as it is particularly strict: Not only does the Austrian EIA
law require the project owner to submit an energy concept, it also asks for very
specific information that neither directive nor the laws of Germany or the UK
require. These include: The explicitly mentioned requirement to consider the
construction phase in the EIA; an assessment of expected immissions; energy
requirements according to source of energy to the level of detail of machines
and energy flow analyses; the lifetime of a project and decommissioning after it
has ended; and a reference to existing Strategic Environmental Assessments
(SEAs). On contrast, Austria is more lax on the assessment of the EIA data (limitations
and caveats). Germany is marginally more explicit than the other two countries
in stating that for certain aspects of a project, compensatory measures should
5.) Criteria for a clearance: Whereas both Germany and particularly the United
Kingdom do not touch this issue in any greater detail than required by the EIA,
Austria has a very strict and clearly defined clearance regime. It requires
authorities to consider best available technology (BAT) for emission values;
very detailed criteria for immission values; and BAT in waste management; as
well as several other features of the assessed project.
6.) Duration of EIAs: This was the first of two practical aspects that were
investigated for this study. It showed that comparative data on EIA practice in
the EU is very poor. Only Austria has assessed the EIA duration in detail; in
both Germany and the UK it differs between regions. Even though the legal regime
on the maximum duration of EIA proceedings could be compared, the Austrian
assessments showed that in practice, these requirements are not met. The
potential for improvement has been demonstrated in Austria and this is likely
apply to Germany and the United Kingdom.
7.) Stakeholder views on screening practice: This aspect tried to build a bridge
to a possible follow-up study of EIA practice. It was based on an extensive
comparative study of EIA practice in the EU, which in turn relied primarily on
stakeholder interviews. It showed that there was room for improvement in several
key-areas: A lack of clarity in the definition of screening criteria; not enough
matching of screening criteria with potential environmental impacts; a need for
tighter guidelines and more research on screening practice; as well as a need
for further research on screening practice. The annexes that define projects
that are required to undergo an EIA has been extended in the past years in all
three countries evaluated.
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