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Environment

Environmental Impact Assessment

Evaluating the effects of public and private projects on the environment

Overview

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
  • motorways
  • 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
  • biodiversity
  • land
  • soil
  • water
  • air
  • climate
  • landscape
  • 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.

Objectives

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.

Law

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.

Main law

Previous amendments

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.

Reporting

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

Publications

Guidance documents