Europe’s state of environment calls for improvement in strategic environmental assessments


The Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive or SEA Directive [1] in short, which requires assessment of environmental impacts of strategic plans and programs, is currently undergoing a regulatory fitness-check (REFIT). It aims at assessing the directive along 5 key criteria: effectiveness, efficiency, relevancy, coherency and EU added value. The purpose of the exercise is to find out whether the Directive is fit for purpose.

NGO Justice and Environment, in its position [2] published today, finds that the SEA directive is fit for purpose but needs better implementation. The paper focuses on the issues of assessing alternative solutions, quality of reports, and public participation, suggesting the European Commission to take the responsibility and step up implementation efforts.

“ Taking into account the challenges faced by the EU,such as biodiversity loss and poor air and water quality, SEA Directive is more relevant these days than when it was adopted. The current legal framework provided by the Directive is not an obstacle to reaching the objectives of the EU environmental policy, quite the contrary. However, the Directive needs better implementation to ensure biodiversity-rich, safe and healthy environment for European citizens," said Siim Vahtrus, Chairman of NGO Justice and Environment.

The Commission and its consultant will introduce the preliminary findings of the evaluation of the Directive at a workshop held in Brussels today. The final evaluation study by consultants is expected in February, after which the Commission is expected to draft a Staff Working Paper outlining possible next steps (e.g. revision of the legal text or actions aimed at better implementation). The evaluation is expected to conclude in the end of 2019.

Selected outcomes of the position paper

Alternative solutions

➢    SEAs should consider a broad range of alternative solutions to not become a tool for validation of pre-made strategic choices, without providing any additional value from the environmental and sustainability perspective.

➢    Considering a wider range of strategic alternatives instead of minor minor modifications of one strategic option benefits the undertakings by providing clearer strategic framework in which to plan specific projects and related investments.


Quality of the reports

➢    Substantive quality of reports is a key issue to ensure the objectives of the Directive.

➢    Minimum qualification requirements for SEA experts, system of peer review or administrative review of the reports and meaningful monitoring and post-assessment of the strategic choices are ways to ensure substantive quality of reports.


Public participation

➢    Public participation is a key tool to facilitate meaningful consideration of alternatives and ensuring high substantive quality of the SEA reports.

➢    Public participation arrangements should be based on wide definition of “public”.

➢    Public should be involved in an early stage where all options are open as well as providing the public with sufficient time-frames to provide high-quality input.


Notes for Editors:

[1] Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment

[2] NGO Justice and Environment’s Position Paper regarding the regulatory fitness of the Directive 2001/42/EC SEA Directive: fit for purpose – if you do it right!

Established in 2003, Association Justice and Environment (J&E) is a European network of environmental law organizations that strives to protect the environment and nature by improving environmental legislation and enhancing the enforcement thereof.


For more information, please contact:

Siim Vahtrus, Chairman of NGO Justice and Environment,, phone + 372 5568 3880

Katre Liiv, Communications, J&E,, phone +372 507 6519