Hearing with the Committees for European Affairs, Economic Affairs and the Committee for Sustainable Development of the French National Assembly, in Paris




Madame Auroi, Madame Massat, monsieur Chanteguet, Honourable Members, good afternoon.

Thank you for this invitation to address the committees. I am particularly pleased to be here, because in one way it is rather like coming home. Before becoming the Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries I was a parliamentarian for 38 years. I have a deep appreciation of your role.  To be truly effective, EU policy must be two things: easily implemented and easily understood.

Your role is to ensure both.

You are in daily contact with your constituencies and local situations. You understand the practical context into which environmental and maritime polices must fit.

You are also best placed to ensure that sustainability considerations are reflected in all policy areas.

When I say this is a little like coming home, that is also because since becoming Commissioner, France is the country I have visited most – other than Malta, of course!

One of my first missions was to Lyon. There I presented the European Business Awards for the Environment. These awards were a showcase of European innovation and talent.
And they were an early indication for me of the potential of the Circular Economy.
I have been a regular visitor to Paris.

COP 21 was an obvious highlight. But I have also attended for maritime trade fairs where again French innovation was to the fore.

As part of my ocean governance tour, I visited Brest. I was impressed by the magnificent Iroise [pronounce Iroaze] park, which is now part of Natura 2000.

My visits are so frequent because France is so essential to the EU. You promote cooperation within the EU and internationally. COP 21 is one of the best results of that.
Today I want to look at our shared agenda, and see how we can take it forward together.

***

I will start with one thing I would like you to remember above all.
I believe that environment policy and economic growth must go hand‑in‑hand. It is not about "balance". It is about an integrated strategy. Environment, fisheries and maritime policies can boost our economy, while safeguarding our precious resources.

It's what I call "green" and "blue" growth. These are the best tools we have to boost Europe's competitiveness. If done right, we can provide jobs for our future and a future for those jobs.
Our momentum is strong. COP21 was a great success for people and for our planet, and I have nothing but praise for France and its leadership as host and chair.

In the words of my friend and colleague, Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, the COP "was our last chance and we took it." The deal proved that openness and inclusiveness works. All countries invested in the deal because they felt included in the deal.
In the lead up to Paris, the international community reached consensus on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

It calls for action by low, middle and high-income countries alike. It reflects a balanced and integrated agenda of economic, social and environmental goals and targets. l am proud of the role the EU had in making this possible. 

The true test of both these agreements will be their implementation. It will be how the international community delivers real changes in people's lives. Much will depend on determined leadership.

The Commission is determined to implement the 2030 Agenda, and support others to do the same. Next Steps for a Sustainable European Future is in the Commission's Work Programme for this year.  I am personally committed to making this a success.

The best way to convince is to lead by example. I'd like to take the time this afternoon to talk you through three priorities that allow the EU to do this. They are smart and sustainable growth, reconnecting Europe with citizens, and delivering progress on the ground.
Let me start with smart and sustainable growth.

This is the essence of the circular economy package the Commission put forward last December.
I think that we can all agree that the 'take, make, use and throw away' economy is the model of the past. The Europe of the future will need to retain precious resources in the production chain and fully exploit all the economic value they contain.

The package we adopted gives us the chance to deliver the highest standard of waste management.

It gives us the chance to develop production chains that are truly circular.

In our view, smart simple regulation, plus incentives equals transformation.

The Circular Economy is not just another environmental initiative. The environmental benefits will be huge. But the economic potential – the business opportunities – are just as big. In fact it will be a triple win. Society can win through job creation, savings for businesses and lower carbon emissions. It is a major opportunity for Europe, and France is well placed to reap many of the benefits.  

The French law on the energy transition for green growth, adopted last summer, also addressed the circular economy. It was an inspiration when the Commission was preparing the EU package.
France already has many circular economy champions.

Last month, for example, at the Davos World Economic Forum, Veolia was awarded one of the first "Circulars". These are prestigious awards for Circular Economy thinking. The award was for using circular strategies for re-manufacturing, prolonging product lifecycles, wastewater recycling and energy efficiency. A great example of France's excellence in the field.
And it is a great example of the integrated approach.

As I've said, if we think only of "balancing" on the tightrope between Environment and Economy we become paralysed. Scared to move.

An integrated approach, as Veolia prove, allows us to move and adapt to shifting trends.
There are other good examples, but I am not just here to praise.
I am also here to ask you for your help.

France has the potential to do more, and the Assembly Nationale can help. Shifting taxation from employment to pollution and resource use, for example, makes complete sense, both environmentally and socially. There is high potential for that shift in France.

The circular economy package looks mainly at the land, but it's the kind of thinking we also need to apply to our seas. Here too, we cannot continue to deplete our resources.

Unfortunately, we are worryingly close to doing just that. Take the current situation of fish stocks in the Mediterranean. As you know, thesituation is alarming: more than 90% of stocks are overexploited.

For this reason, we held a "High Level Seminar on the status of stocks in the Mediterranean and on the CFP approach" in Catania last week. The event signalled the increased commitment of all actors in the fight against depletion of fish stocks in the Mediterranean.

We are preparing a Multi-annual plan for the demersal species in the Western Mediterranean which, in the case of France, will cover the Gulf of Lion.

The latest scientific assessments confirm that if we fail to improve the management of the demersal stock here, species such as hake could collapse - with no possibility of recovery.
French authorities have been involved since the beginning. The fisheries sector and other stakeholders have been asked to give input, including socio-economic data to our public consultation.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need healthy and productive seas for a host of reasons. We want the jobs that come from economic growth, but we can't have sustainable jobs if we don’t take good care of the marine environment.

In fact, the blue economy and the green economy are complementary. By increasing resource efficiency and decreasing waste, we can protect our oceans.

With healthy seas, the blue economy can offer large rewards. It already represents almost 4% of EU's GDP and at least 5 million people depend on it for their livelihood.

In addition to traditional sectors like fisheries, new maritime activities have the potential to boost future growth. Marine renewable energy and marine biotechnology are good examples.
And here, I am pleased to see France leading the way. Marine renewable energy is booming, particularly along the Atlantic coast, where I have seen the results at first hand. Floating wind power is a subject of research and development by French companies, as is seabed mining. These sectors generate potential for high quality local employment in coastal areas.

And this is another area where we can work together, because the EU is keen to support investment in the blue economy. The "Horizon 2020" programme finances projects related to blue growth in the areas of research and innovation. The new European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) also offers funding opportunities for major maritime projects.

And funds are also available for Regional Development. Investments of €100 million to transform the port of Cherbourg into a development centre of renewable marine energy, for example, are supported by up to €15 million from EU regional funds.

By working together, Member States can further increase the impact of their investments in the blue economy. This is happening with ourAtlantic Strategy, which brings together the UK, France, Ireland, Spain and Portugal.

Of course France has a long track‑record and experience in maritime, cross-sectorial coordination. It is also a driver for the Mediterranean integration process and notably the Union for the Mediterranean. Your constructive involvement enabled the Union to adopt a Ministerial Declaration on Blue Economy in November.

I very much appreciate your continued support in these areas.

***

Let me now turn to my second priority – reconnecting Europe with citizens.
Times are not easy for the EU. Citizens are asking fundamental questions. They want to know how the EU is working for them. They want to see that EU efforts translate into results.  
When it comes to the environment and fisheries these are questions to which we can a say solid "YES". On the Environmental side, EU legislation directly safeguards EU's citizen's health and wellbeing.  

There are numerous examples, but let's start with the Commission's efforts to improve air quality in Europe.

The European Environmental Agency reports that each year, over 400 000 people die prematurely from air pollution.  European standards are constantly exceeded. More than 50 000 of these people are in France. Air pollution also affects businesses and public budgets, through lost working days and the healthcare cost of diseases related to pollution. This situation needs to change.

Our citizens deserve to breathe clean air.  But that is a constant challenge. Here in France, for example, 19 French air quality zones were in breach of nitrogen dioxide air quality limits last year. 17 zones were in breach of the limits for Particulate Matter. This is why, across the EU, the Commission has opened many infringement procedures related to clean air. It is also why the Commission's air quality package, which is now being negotiated with the Council and the Parliament – can help.

The proposed revision of the National Emission Ceilings Directive(NEC), for example, will tackle the national and transboundary air pollution which contributes so much to these problems. That could reduce the current adverse health effects by more than half. The negotiations are entering a key stage, and we are counting on the support of France to give our citizens the quality of air – and quality of life – they deserve.

Europe also has a great track record in helping citizens connect with the nature they love. The EU's Natura 2000 network of protected areasrepresents the most important practical action being taken in the EU to halt the loss of biodiversity. The Network currently contains over 26 000 sites, making it the largest coordinated network of areas of high biodiversity value anywhere in the world.

And the network does make a decisive contribution, preserving biodiversity for future generations, and providing a wide range of benefits. The benefits we derive from carbon storage, for example, are immense. Nature stores nearly 10 billion tonnes of carbon each year, which is equivalent to 35 billion tonnes of CO2. [If we price that, we see that this service is worth between 600 and 1,130 billion euros.

Ecosystem services are one reason why the EU Biodiversity Strategy remains a priority. The aim of the strategy, you will recall, is to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. Our recent review shows a clear need to step up efforts considerably, if we are to deliver on these objectives. And we must deliver. Nature is the engine of a green economy and the basis of any sustainable future. Again to emphasise; we must strive to have jobs for our future and a future for those jobs.

France is blessed with a rich and diverse natural heritage. You have the second largest maritime space in the world. That brings both considerable challenges and special responsibilities.
Investing in biodiversity protection now will deliver numerous benefits for the future. Rural development, tourism, and more sustainable and competitive agriculture will be key. I am pleased to see these areas reflected in the ambitious Biodiversity Law currently under discussion in the National Assembly and in the Senate. I hope that the level of ambition will be maintained in the adopted legislation.

And there are many other areas in which environment can help connect citizens with the European project.

Citizens demand clean water, and Europe is helping. Across the EU, over 99% of the drinking water supplied is now safe. This is thanks to continuously improved implementation of the EU Directive on drinking water quality.

And citizens demand safer chemicals. With the REACH legislative framework, we combine a high level of protection with enhanced competitiveness and innovation. Before REACH, there was a general lack of knowledge regarding the vast majority of chemicals placed on the EU market. Chemicals could be marketed without stringent tests for health and safety. These were the bad old days. No one regrets their passing.

The next frontier is to develop a strategy to move to a non-toxic environment. We will do this by continuing to review legislation relating to the use of chemicals. We will ensure its sound implementation. This will further contribute to reducing the burden of disease linked to chemicals in the environment.

When it comes to connecting with citizens, how better than delivering better quality air? The EU institutions have a great responsibility to agree a Quality air quality package.  We owe it to our citizens.

 ***

Let me turn now to my third priority.  My concern here is to focus more closely on better implementation. Europe has a solid legal framework for the environment. We now have a stronger, reformed Common Fisheries Policy. But our legal framework has to work in practice. So I call this priority 'making it happen'. 

As I said in my opening: to be truly effective, EU policy must be two things: easily implemented and easily understood.

For that to happen, we must ensure that Europe's environment policy remains fit for purpose. The on-going fitness check of our nature legislation has received a huge amount of attention. In fact it has generated the largest ever number of citizens' replies to any EU consultation: over 500,000. This included 35 000 from France. It was a clear indication of how attached citizens are to EU nature policy.

But this is only one part of a wider, comprehensive check on environmental legislation. Similar evaluations have been carried out for Europe's freshwater and waste legislation. Upcoming REFIT initiatives include a horizontal initiative on environmental reporting, and checks on individual policies such as the EU environmental management system, (EMAS) and the Ecolabel Regulation.  
In the environment field, non-implementation of existing legislation is estimated to cost the European economy around €50 billion a year. Wasting this money, especially in the current economic circumstances, does not make sense.

With that in mind, we are introducing a new tool in 2016.  This will allow a comprehensive analysis of the reasons for the environment policy implementation gap. It will identify challenges faced by each Member State. Then we can direct funding more efficiently and signal best practice more clearly.

The tool will also help improve the contribution environment policies make to the "European Semester", the annual cycle of economic growth. Better data will help us further the integration of the resource efficiency thinking into the Semester process.

You can help us deliver by completing the transposition process on time. You can design national implementing rules that are the best fit for the challenges. That will make it easier to track and monitor implementation.

Last but not least, 'making it happen' implies enhancing cooperation with third countries and international institutions.  Our oceans are a shared resource. The environment knows no borders and we will only succeed if our international partners also embrace a sustainable path. The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda provides a strong framework to deliver on this.

The specific goal for Oceans and Seas is great step forward. Maintaining healthy oceans, protecting biodiversity and the marine environment are essential for eradicating poverty, for sustained economic growth and food security. The sustainable development of the blue economy will also ensure global opportunities for European businesses,
But the key word here is sustainable.

We need stronger international Ocean Governance to ensure that our oceans develop sustainably. It also means exchanging best practices, and discussing options for effective ocean management with our partners across the world.

Ocean governance is of great relevance for the EU, and I ampersonally committed to taking it forward during my mandate. Last year the Commission conducted a public consultation, to better understand the main issues for the various stakeholders. We were pleased to receive many contributions from France.

We have just published the summary of these contributions. A first analysis of the answers shows that we already have many of the elements we need. Here too, it is often a question of better coordination and better implementation. We are now preparing an initiative along these lines, to be launched later on this year.
                                                ***
Honourable members, let me finish with a reminder of the words of President Juncker, from his State of the Union address. He said: "this is not the time for business as usual. Our European Union is not in a good state."

For we do face numerous crises. Refugees and migration, security and terrorism, a very difficult economic and social context and, of course, the environmental and climate challenges. None of these challenges can be repaired with a quick fix. If they have one thing in common, it is the need for solutions that look to the longer term. 

The decisions we take now will influence for decades our economic, social and environmental model. Green and blue growth offers a sustainable future – for Europe and the world. 

Your role as national parliamentarians is fundamental in smoothing the path for these more integrated forms of growth. Since the Lisbon treaty, you can ensure that our proposals take national characteristics into account. I am fully convinced that you will support me in our endeavours and that you will ensure delivery.

Thank for your attention. I look forward to hearing your views.

Source : Europa.eu

Mardi 16 Février 2016

  

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