01 Jun 2017

EU've lost that loving feeling

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The UK served its Article 50 notice indicating its wish to leave the European Union two months ago, so it's time for my second blog entry on BREXIT and the environment.

The past month has been somewhat refreshing for the UK media because, for the first time in a while, they have had something other than Britain's departure from the EU to focus on. BREXIT has taken a back seat while the UK's General Election is, understandably, dominating headlines; however issues such as security and immigration are central to the debate.

I mentioned in my first blog that twenty four months to negotiate the 'divorce' and new trade agreements was not particularly long given the complexities involved; and that formal negotiations would begin in June, this month. So that makes blog entry two rather difficult to write because, on the BREXIT and environmental front, nothing obvious is happening, although quite a lot has happened politically…

#FrenchElection France voted in its youngest-ever President, the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. Macron is pro-EU and quickly named Nicolas Hulot as the Environment Minister. Monsieur Hulot is a well-known environmentalist and is sure to be a vocal and passionate advocate within Europe and beyond.

#GeneralElection Campaigning in the UK's General Election continues apace in advance of the vote on 8 June 2016. All the major parties have published their manifestos and are selling and defending their ideas in equal measure. We've read the manifestos and summarised what each party is saying on the environment – click here to read more.

#Eurovision As you know from our amazing BREXIT puns, this blogger likes a good pop song and in keeping the musical theme, the 62nd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest was held on 13 May 2017. The UK came 15th with a song called "Never Give Up On You". The continental voters were obviously unconvinced that this was true in a post-Brexit world. But still, 15th out of 42 entrants isn't too bad, until you find out that Australia came 12th (don't ask…).

 

Purple remain

Given the state of election purdah, it isn't surprising that there's still a dearth of information from Whitehall as to what will be happening to British environmental law.

At home, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched a consultation on a new air quality plan, which could be quite radical if all of it is taken forward. A final plan is expected to be published – by the new Government - at the end of July 2016.

Across in Brussels, the EU Environment Directorate continues to work as if BREXIT isn't on the radar – as it should. In May, the EU triggered the coming into force of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which was negotiated in 2013.

The European Commission published its annual bathing water quality report, which highlighted that just over 85% of European bathing sites met the highest quality standards in 2016. The Member State water reports can be found here – 90% of the 631 bathing waters in the UK were "good" or "excellent". Who needs a European holiday when you've got the North Sea?

And not really news (in fact quite the opposite), but May saw the 25th anniversary of the EU Habitats Directive, which was approved on 21 May 1992. Amongst other things, the Habitats Directive built upon the Birds Directive created the Natura 2000 network and there are now more than 27,000 designated sites covering 20% of the European territory – there are 658 sites in the UK alone (see list). Habitats protection has been a great EU achievement but it could be one of the first victims of BREXIT, if our fears about "green tape" being cut in the medium-term prove to be true.

 

Post script - Don't look back in anger

I thought long and hard about mentioning the events in Manchester in this blog. In the end I opted not to, because terrorism is neither directly related to BREXIT; nor is there an environmental aspect. That said, it felt deeply uncomfortable and disrespectful to exclude it. To my mind, the EU has always been, fundamentally, a platform for collaboration: sharing information and skills for the benefit of all Europeans and the rest of the world. It seems to me that in an age of increased threats to the way we live – whether from acts of terror committed by individuals or acts of God or man-made climate change – the closer we collaborate the better chance of dealing with it, whether that is from within the EU or right next to it. #WE♥MCR

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