Europe should remain focused in the face of Brexit and not lose its value for the environment, former Commissioners and leading experts warn

EU flag in front of Berlaymont building facade

A group of former Commissioners, Ministers, scientists, civil society and policymakers from around Europe have called on EU leaders to put the environment at the centre of a new vision for Europe’s future.

A group of 15 high-level signatories including Former European Commissioners Janez Potocnik and Connie Hedegaard are part of a call for strengthening EU environmental action – and not repatriating it to the national level.

In a timely [1] common statement, the signatories call for the EU to live up to the commitments it has made under the Paris Climate agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), citing the critical role played by EU policies in cleaning up Europe’s rivers, driving a clean energy revolution and bring iconic wildlife back from the brink of extinction. They also state that the Commission’s ‘Better Regulation’ drive should not automatically lead to less regulation.



Statement issued in advance of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome

Recent trends and events across our continent and further afield, from high unemployment and deep social inequality, high levels of public debt and challenges in integrating refugees to threats to our security and the UK vote in favour of Brexit, have given cause for the EU to reflect on its purpose and its ability to tackle these challenges.

The EU now needs to set out a clear vision for its future role. Debate on this has been given recent input by President Juncker publishing five scenarios in a Commission White Paper and it will continue well beyond the Treaty of Rome celebrations later this week.

The EU’s role needs to be one that is relevant to people, that they can understand and get behind, where the benefits of the EU tackling the particular challenge, rather than member states acting alone, are apparent.

The EU has long been considered as a force for good in protecting the environment. It is clear that member states, working together on environmental issues, are more effective than when working alone. Problems like pollution, climate change and use of resources do not respect borders. Solving them effectively can only work if we too are prepared to act and cooperate across borders.

Over nearly half a century, the EU has put in place legal instruments that have helped clean up our rivers, lakes and beaches; saved lives by reducing harmful air pollution; protected people from hazardous chemicals; rescued iconic wildlife from the brink of extinction; propelled a clean energy revolution; and led the world in agreeing a historic climate change agreement in Paris.

The EU has taken these steps over time, through Member States working together and demonstrating international leadership, to achieve the bigger goal of leaving Europe and the planet in a good state for future generations. These achievements are significant, but it is clear that more still needs to be done.

These challenges require collective action, with our European and international partners, more than ever. Now is not the time to cede European leadership by pulling apart or seeking to repatriate environmental legislation to a national level or, worse still, rowing back as others have intimated.

If it were to do so, the EU would provide dangerous discouragement to those looking to innovate, invest in and manufacture the technologies that will help us to achieve the goal of a more sustainable and prosperous Europe. Better regulation in this respect should not necessarily be about less regulation. Smart regulation from the EU needs to create conditions that will give confidence to investors to put their money and their knowhow into the markets of the future: right here in Europe.

It is right to recognise legitimate concerns about the EU’s future role but it is clear that people across Europe from Bratislava to Barcelona, from Poznan to Puglia, see EU action on environmental protection as a positive. There is good reason to believe that strengthening, rather than weakening, environmental and climate action will provide Europeans with a more sustainable, secure and prosperous future. Europeans see the value in clean air, clean water, clean energy, sustainable consumption and production, sustainable economic development, investment in infrastructure and food security.

Europe needs to demonstrate what it can do as a force for good in the future, and it does not need to look far for inspiration. Little more than a year ago, world leaders, including from the EU, committed themselves to the global Sustainable Development Goals and to the historic Climate Agreement achieved in Paris. In the face of a difficult year it was right that European leaders, at the climate talks in Marrakesh, called on others to help keep the spirit of Paris alive. Given the early signals about the direction that US environmental policy will take under the Trump administration, European leadership in this field is more important than ever.

The EU now needs to put the detailed, practical measures in place to deliver on these promises and in doing so, embark on a new common European vision that will put people and planet first.


Günther Bachmann, General Secretary of German Council for Sustainable Development

Céline Charveriat, Executive Director, Institute for European Environmental Policy

Connie Hedegaard, Chair OECD’s Round Table for Sustainability, former Minister and EU Commissioner

Tricia Henton, former Chief Executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Stanley Johnson, former UK MEP, author and environmental campaigner

Jean Jouzel, French climate scientist

Bedrich Moldan, Professor of Environmental Science at the Charles University, Prague, former Minister of Environment of the Czech Republic

Peter J. Kalas, former Minister of Environment of the Czech Republic

Janez Potocnik, Co-chair, International Resources Panel, Partner at SystemiQ, former European Commissioner.

Klaus Töpfer, former German Minister of Environment, former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme

Jürgen Trittin, former German Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, MP

Baroness Young of Old Scone, Member of the United Kingdom House of Lords

Jeremy Wates, Secretary General, European Environmental Bureau

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Co-Chair of the Club of Rome

Sir Graham Wynne, Former CEO of the UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds


Notes to editors:

[1] The statement comes ahead of this Saturday’s meeting of EU heads of state or government to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
> It also follows the omission of any reference to financing measures to combat climate change from a G20 finance ministers’ statement following their meeting on 17/18 March 2017 in Baden-Baden, Germany.

> On 1 March 2017, the European Commission presented a White Paper on the Future of Europe. This paper outlines five scenarios for the future of Europe.

For more information:

Ian Carey, Communications Manager, European Environmental Bureau

+32 22 89 13 09

Europe should remain focused in the face of Brexit and not lose its value for the environment, former Commissioners and leading experts warn
This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By using this website you agree to our Data Protection Policy.
Read more