Under the EU’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive (2011/92/EU as amended by 2014/52/EU), major building or development projects in the EU must first be assessed for their impact on the environment. This is done before the project can start.
An EIA is required for the various projects such as
- nuclear power stations
- long-distance railways
- express roads
- waste disposal installations for hazardous waste
- dams of a certain capacity
For other projects, including urban or industrial development projects, roads, tourism development and canalisation and flood relief works, it is up to individual EU Member States to decide if there will be an EIA on a case-by-case basis or by setting specific criteria (such as the location, size or type of project).
The EIA assesses the direct and indirect significant impact of a project based on a wide range of environmental factors, including
- population and human health
- material assets
- cultural heritage
The project developer must provide the approval authority with a report containing the following information
- description of the project (location, design, size)
- potential significant effects
- reasonable alternatives
- features of the project and/or measures to avoid, prevent, reduce or offset likely significant impacts on the environment
There are also strict rules about how the public is informed of the project and the fact that it is subject to an EIA procedure and how those affected can participate in the decision-making process. The public is also informed of the decision afterwards and can then challenge before the courts.
The EIA procedure guarantees environmental protection and transparency with regard to the decision-making process for several public and private projects. With its wide scope and broad purpose, the EIA ensures that environmental concerns are considered from the very beginning of new building or development projects, or their changes or extensions. It allows the public to actively engage in the EIA procedure.
The first Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (85/337/EEC) came into force in 1985. The Directive has been updated four times to bring it in line with the EU’s international commitments and other legal developments. In 2011, Directive 85/337/EEC and its subsequent amendments was codified into a single new act (Directive 2011/92/EU) that is currently in force.
- Directive 97/11/EC brought the Directive in line with the UN ECE Espoo Convention on EIA in a Transboundary Context. It widened the scope of the EIA Directive by increasing the types of projects covered, and the number of projects requiring mandatory environmental impact assessment (Annex I). It also provided for new screening arrangements, including new screening criteria (Annex III) for Annex II projects, and established minimum information requirements.
- Directive 2003/35/EC aligned the provisions on public participation with the Aarhus Convention on public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.
- Directive 2009/31/EC added projects related to the transport, capture and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) to Annexes I and II of the EIA Directive.
Review of the EIA Directive
In 2012 the Commission adopted a proposal to amend Directive 2011/92/EU based on a thorough impact assessment. The aim was to lighten unnecessary administrative burdens, reinforce the decision-making process and make it easier to assess potential impacts without weakening existing environmental safeguards. Following amendments introduced by the European Parliament and the Council, the revised Directive entered into force on 15 May 2014. Member States had 3 years to transpose the Directive. The Commission drafted an informal checklist to help Member States when transposing the Directive.
Under the EIA Directive, EU Member States must provide statistics to the Commission on how the Directive is implemented in their countries every six years. This includes the numbers of projects assessed under the two annexes of the Directive, average length of time the EIA process takes, and the costs involved.
The first reporting exercise is due in 2023. See here for the Commission’s proposed draft format for Member States reporting.
Commission reports on the application and effectiveness of the EIA Directive
- Reporting format under Article 12(2) of the EIA Directive (2022)
- 35 years of EU Environmental Impact Assessment (2021)
- Commission Recommendation on speeding up permit granting procedures for renewable energy projects and facilitating Power Purchase Agreements and accompanying Guidance to Member States on good practices to speed up permit-granting procedures for renewable energy projects and on facilitating Power Purchase Agreements (2022)
- Commission notice regarding application of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive to changes and extension of projects - Annex I.24 and Annex II.13(a), including main concepts and principles related to these (2021)
- Commission Guidance document regarding application of exemptions under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive – Articles 1(3), 2(4) and 2(5)2019/C 386/05 (2019)
- Commission guidance document on streamlining environmental assessments conducted under Article 2(3) of the EIA Directive (2016)
- EIA guidance - Screening (2017)
- EIA guidance - Scoping (2017)
- EIA guidance - EIA report (2017)
- Interpretation of definitions of project categories of annex I and II of the EIA Directive (2015) ( also available in French and German)
- Streamlining environmental assessment procedures for energy infrastructure Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) (2013)
- Guidance on the Application of the Environmental Impact Assessment Procedure for Large-scale Transboundary Projects (2013)
- Guidance on Integrating Climate Change and Biodiversity into Environmental Impact Assessment (2013)
- Interpretation suggested by the Commission as regards the application of the EIA Directive to ancillary/associated works (2012)
- Application of the EIA Directive to projects related to the exploration and exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon (2012)
- Application of EIA Directive to the rehabilitation of landfills (2010)
- Collection of information and data to support the Impact Assessment study of the review of the EIA Directive (2010)