October 18, 2021

a note “too salty” for taxpayers, warns the European Court of Auditors

“The European taxpayer too often pays the bill instead of the polluter. “ It is the European Court of Auditors (ECA) which says it, and writes it, in a special report devoted to the polluter pays principle (PPP) published on Monday 5 July. According to this principle, a pillar of European Union (EU) environmental legislation and policy, it is up to the polluter to bear the costs associated with the pollution it generates. This is not always the case, however, far from it.

In a very severe document, the auditors multiply the criticisms: the PPP is applied in a way “Uneven”, “inconsistent” and ” incomplete “, “To varying degrees” sector and State to State and it does not cover all cases. So it is public money – and not that of the polluter – that is in fine used to finance decontamination actions.

“At the end of the chain, the bill for the citizens of the European Union is steep”, deplores the Court, whose report has been submitted to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. The total cost of pollution to society has never been fully assessed. According to a 2019 study for the European Commission, the costs and benefits lost from not meeting the requirements of EU environmental law are estimated at around € 55 billion per year.

The extent of pollution in the EU is further documented: nearly 3 million sites are potentially contaminated, mainly by industrial activity but also by the treatment and disposal of waste. About 60% of surface water (rivers, lakes or coastal waters) is not in ” good condition “ chemical and ecological. And air pollution causes around 400,000 premature deaths each year, according to the European Environment Agency.

Read the op-ed: “The polluter pays principle must also apply to e-commerce”

Auditors from the Court of Auditors sought to verify whether the PPP was correctly applied in four areas of EU environmental policy: industrial pollution, waste, water and soil.

Impact of residual pollution

The directive on industrial emissions certainly governs the most polluting installations – estimated at 52,000 – but most Member States still do not hold industrialists responsible for the environmental damage they cause if their emissions remain below the authorized limits. Nor does the directive require manufacturers to bear the costs linked to the impact of residual pollution. This is numbered in “Hundreds of billions of euros”, according to the CEC. The European Environment Agency has thus estimated the cost of damage due to residual atmospheric pollution caused by 14,000 large industrial installations between 329 billion and 1,053 billion euros over the period 2008-2012.

You have 57.55% of this article to read. The rest is for subscribers only.