Natural environment  |  Publications  |  27.01.2014

Environmental Policy in the European Semester: Assessing Progress to Date

The European Semester was introduced in 2010 as a mechanism of economic and fiscal policy coordination. It offers a novel and potentially powerful tool through which to monitor Member States’ progress on various issues, including environmental issues, and recommends improvements to better align national efforts with EU policy objectives. This report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy Institute for the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament assesses the progress of the European Semester process to date, with a focus on environmental issues within it. The report recommends a further greening of the European Semester process to better support environmental objectives such as resource efficiency and biodiversity.

The European Semester was introduced in 2010 as a mechanism of economic and fiscal policy coordination, bringing together reporting under the Europe 2020 Strategy with reporting under the Stability and Growth Pact.Given the economic and financial context over the past three years, ensuring a successful exit from the economic crisis has been the dominant focus of the European Semester process to date. Although some environmental issues are covered in country-specific recommendations (CSRs), in particular environmental tax reform, energy (and electricity) and transport infrastructure, renewable energy and energy efficiency, better energy market design, and progress towards GHG emission reduction targets; others such as biodiversity, recycling, eco-innovation, air pollution, water management, and waste are side-lined or entirely absent. 

The narrow focus of the European Semester process to date is perhaps not surprising given the overarching political priorities of recent years. However, the European Semester is a tool to implement the Europe 2020 Strategy which includes climate change, energy and resource efficiency related objectives. The focus of the process to date has ignored these wider objectives which are also firmly embedded in the EU environmental acquis. Thus, there is scope for further ‘greening’ the European Semester process to better support environmental objectives as set out below:


  • To date, the European Semester process has lacked comprehensive consideration of environmental measures whose importance is recognised in the Europe 2020 Strategy, including in the area of resource efficiency. There is therefore a need for a wider interpretation of the priority areas set out in the Annual Growth Survey (AGS). For example, the priority of ‘Growth and competitiveness for today and tomorrow’ could start to focus more on ‘tomorrow’ including actions need for the transition to a low-carbon, resource efficient, circular economy. In addition, one could envisage environmental issues becoming one of the priority areas explicitly covered in future AGSs.
  • The neglect of important wider environmental issues is also apparent in the Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs). CSRs should provide more comprehensive coverage of environmental issues which support the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy. These include for example issues related to biodiversity and ecosystem services which have been entirely absent to date, as well as wider coverage of resource efficiency related issues including water and waste management which have made brief appearances in some CSRs but with little substance or detail. This can be done in the spirit of the process to date and its focus on environmental-economic win-wins, drawing on a wide range of available evidence. At the same time, CSRs should be made more specific to provide stronger and clearer guidance on environment-related recommendations. A consistent follow-up process is also important whereby progress on previous CSRs (or lack thereof) is reflected in future CSRs. 
  • There is a need to increase ownership and engagement of Member States in the process, in particular of the CSRs. In this context, regular exchanges between Member States can be useful for discussion, exchanging best practices and mutual learning, which can support better implementation of environment-focused CSRs and provides a forum for further integrating environmental considerations in the European Semester.
  • The European Parliament can support the further greening of the European Semester process by emphasising the need for policy coherence between the European Semester and wider EU strategic documents including the 7th Environment Action Programme and the Resource Efficiency Roadmap. The Parliament can also play a more proactive role in the process, for example drafting resolutions setting out the Parliament’s key priorities for the coming year in advance of the annual presentation by the Commission of the AGS; organising public hearings on greening the European Semester; and raising these issues during regular dialogues and exchanges of views with relevant representatives of EU institutions.
  • Civil society and other stakeholders can also support the further greening of the European Semester through greater engagement in the process, for example by actively participating in the Commission’s ‘fact finding missions’ to Member States which take place in January-February each year. These missions provide an opportunity to get feedback from various stakeholders at the national level on progress in the country and key challenges ahead and in turn inform the development of CSRs and Commission Staff Working Documents for the year ahead.

Text adapted from the "Key Messages" chapter of the report. 



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