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 proceedings.

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 be considered.

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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