Official Journal of the European Union

C 191/111

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of a Programme for the Environment and Climate Action (LIFE)’

COM(2011) 874 final

2012/C 191/20

Rapporteur: Mr NARRO

On 15 December 2011 and 23 January 2012 respectively the European Parliament and the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 192 and Article 304 the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of a Programme for the Environment and Climate Action (LIFE)

COM(2011) 874 final.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 10 April 2012.

At its 480th plenary session of 25 and 26 April 2012 (meeting of 25 April) the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 127 votes to 2 with 4 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1   The LIFE Programme is a successful EU programme which, in conjunction with other funds and initiatives, has produced very positive results over the last 20 years. It should therefore be maintained and strengthened to ensure that protection of the climate and environment in the European Union can be taken forward strategically and coherently.

1.2   The budget increase proposed for the LIFE Programme (2014-2020) is a positive sign, although much still needs to be done to include the environment effectively in European policies. The EESC calls on the Member States, who are embroiled in a serious economic crisis, to give firm support for investment in the climate and environment in order to mitigate their effects.

1.3   Establishing a Climate Action sub-programme may create a positive instrument to raise the profile of those initiatives aimed at adapting and mitigating climate change. For its part, the Environment sub-programme must continue to help protect biodiversity and to finance the Natura 2000 network as a priority, but without reducing the contribution from other funds such as those making up the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

1.4   Launching a new kind of large-scale project, the ‘Integrated Projects’, must be achieved by guaranteeing the involvement of NGOs and SMEs, ensuring that ‘traditional projects’ are continued and improving coordination between national and EU bodies. In this respect, the EESC suggests that the Commission should include in the proposal for a regulation a clear budgetary allocation for both types of project, stipulate which criteria are to be used for establishing the geographical distribution of the integrated projects and make clear how the multi-annual programmes are to be drawn up without impairing the programme's flexibility.

1.5   The EESC is in favour of projects being distributed on the basis of merit rather than geographical criteria. Nevertheless, it acknowledges that many countries have a very limited involvement in the LIFE Programme because they are either lacking in experience or the necessary means to participate actively. It is therefore essential for the Commission to give them easier accesses by providing more advice and through better institutional coordination.

1.6   Increasing the level of co-financing for traditional and integrated projects can under no circumstances justify VAT and staff costs no longer being considered as eligible costs. Not including these costs would essentially harm small civil society organisations whose contribution is very valuable but whose involvement could be limited or non-existent.

1.7   The introduction of lump-sum payments is a good simplification measure. The EESC feels that the Commission should go further by improving advisory services, simplifying financial forms and introducing a prior assessment stage for traditional projects.

1.8   The EESC deems it essential to retain the Community and European added value aspects of the LIFE Programme. In this respect, the Commission should make clear in advance which measures are to be adopted via delegated acts, the role of the Member States in the LIFE Committee and the new powers of the Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation.

1.9   Despite the LIFE Programme's notable success, the European Commission must make further efforts to increase awareness of the Programme and the active involvement of civil society organisations. In this respect, it is essential for projects to be better publicised and more transparent as regards their selection and for people to be made more aware of the importance of an EU instrument such as the LIFE Programme and the added value it can bring to society.

2.   Background

2.1   On 12 December 2011 the European Commission published the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of a Programme for the Environment and Climate Action (LIFE). The total financial envelope for the LIFE Programme for the period 2014-2020 expressed in current prices is EUR 3 618 million.

2.2   The LIFE Programme is part of the Commission proposal on the multi-annual financial framework for 2014-2020, which lays down the budgetary framework and main guidelines for the Europe 2020 strategy. The Commission has decided to treat the environment and climate action as an integral part of all instruments and action.

2.3   Since it began in 1992 the LIFE Programme has been one of the EU's main sources of environmental financing. The new regulation proposed by the Commission is intended to replace the current Regulation (EC) No 614/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 May 2007 concerning the Financial Instrument for the Environment (LIFE+).

2.4   The proposal for a new LIFE regulation takes the form of a LIFE Programme with two sub-programmes, one for the Environment and one for Climate Action. The sub-programme for the Environment has three priority areas: 1) Biodiversity; 2) Environment and Resource Efficiency, and finally 3) Governance and Information.

2.5   The Environment sub-programme will have a budget of EUR 2 713,5 million. Half the resources allocated to targeted action for projects will go to support for conserving nature and biodiversity. The Climate Action sub-programme will have a budget of EUR 904,5 million and will consist of three specific priority areas: Climate Change Mitigation, Climate Change Adaptation and Climate Governance and Information.

2.6   The European Economic and Social Committee has always stressed the great importance of the LIFE Programme for developing and configuring EU environmental policy. The three most recent EESC opinions on the LIFE project have reiterated its valuable but limited contribution to defending the European Environment (1):

3.   General comments

3.1   Budget

3.1.1   The budget assigned to LIFE in the proposal for a multi-annual financial framework is significantly increased compared with the funds available in 2007-2013. The LIFE budget will increase from EUR 2 143 to 3 200 million at 2011 prices (EUR 3 618 million at current prices). The Environment sub-programme will receive EUR 2 713 million (half for biodiversity and nature actions) and the Climate Action sub-programme EUR 904,5 million.

3.1.2   The funds account for 0.3 % of the total EU budget. The increased budget is a positive signal regarding environmental concerns, although the effect of the economic crisis on opportunities for financing by private bodies and local government, particularly for large-scale and capital-intensive projects, will need to be assessed. At all events, the EESC emphasises the need for supporting environmental and climate protection to mitigate the effects of the crisis and advocates that the financing of LIFE must not have a negative impact on other funds that might possibly operate in the same area, such as the EAFRD and the Structural Funds.

3.1.3   The Commission should prioritise the need for additional funding for communication and publicity initiatives and knowledge transfer. The specific financing of training and advisory measures will not only help to make the Programme easier to manage, but will primarily boost its effectiveness and optimise resources.

3.2   Main innovations of the proposal

3.2.1   Having consulted stakeholders and conducted impact assessments, the Commission has decided to make three major changes to the existing arrangements in order to improve their structure, simplify their operation, increase their flexibility and define objectives and strategies more clearly. The changes are:


More specific priorities.


Two sub-programmes: Environment and Climate Action.


A new type of project: Integrated Projects.

3.3   Priority setting

3.3.1   One of the questions most discussed in the prior consultation carried out by the European Commission was the appropriateness of laying down defined priorities for the new programme. The Commission firmly rejected the establishment of fixed annual priorities which might prevent applicants from planning, preparing and presenting proposals effectively. In the end the Commission opted for the drafting, jointly with the Member States, of work programmes of at least two years' duration, without providing any detailed information however. The EESC is not currently in a position to address the question of work programmes due to the lack of precise information on the proposal for a regulation being examined in this opinion. Despite the lack of information, the framing of work programmes must comply with the basic principles of the LIFE Programme with respect to its flexibility and adaptability to change.

3.3.2   The EESC supports the concentration of effort on specific political priorities and areas of activity related to the environment and the climate. The Commission should provide more information on the operation of the Committee for the LIFE Programme, and the use of the delegated acts to establish the criteria governing admissibility for projects and geographical balance in the case of Integrated Projects.

3.4   Sub-programme for Climate Action

3.4.1   The establishment of a specific sub-programme to deal with climate-related issues and their three priorities (mitigation, adaptation and governance) should give an impetus to improving implementation of Community climate legislation, strengthening governance and consolidating new networks and platforms. The new sub-programme is essential in attempting to achieve the objectives set out in the Europe 2020 strategy (2) and in the Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050 (3).

3.4.2   Despite its limited funding, the new sub-programme should focus on a range of specific objectives to improve grass-roots knowledge of climate-related questions and make this priority an integral part of the raft of EU instruments and measures. The synergies between environmental and climate objectives are clear. As the Commission points out in its proposal for a Regulation, projects involving the climate can achieve a multiplicity of goals.

3.4.3   The EESC considers that the decision to upgrade the former ‘climate change’ thematic strand under the Life and Environment Policy and Governance component is welcome and appropriate. It is not merely a question of raising its profile, but of appreciating its strategic and multidisciplinary value.

3.5   Integrated Projects

3.5.1   An Integrated Project is a traditional LIFE project but covering an area larger than a region, in which the applicant attempts to generate the necessary capacity to manage a specific sector, making use of financing from LIFE but also from other EU, national, regional or private-sector funds.

3.5.2   These will generally be large-scale projects (EUR 5-10 million of Community co-financing) aimed at resolving environmental problems and improving implementation and the integration of the environment into other policies. The priority areas for action are appropriate (Natura 2000 network, water, air, waste, etc.) although the Commission should not marginalise the role of a number of traditional projects that have generated innumerable benefits at a minimum cost. The Integrated Projects will provide a new multi-purpose implementation mechanism for enforcing environmental and climate legislation, but there are reasonable doubts as to whether they might make management more complex in practice and create difficulties in coordinating the various funds that will operate simultaneously.

3.5.3   The Integrated Projects will be subject to a geographical distribution, still to be determined. The Commission will set geographical criteria by means of delegated acts, but it would be a good idea for the basic regulation to include certain basic guidelines for how to motivate countries that have traditionally not been very active in the LIFE context to be more involved in the programme. To this end, it will be necessary to provide these countries with additional advice and improve coordination with the relevant national bodies. The EESC believes that merit criteria should take precedence over geographical or similar criteria when it comes to selecting an Integrated Project. Co-financing increased to a maximum of 80 % of eligible costs may not be sufficient to encourage the participation of public and private-sector operators in the context of a crisis, in which it is very difficult to mobilise sufficient funds for such ambitious projects.

3.5.4   The Integrated Projects should do more to involve civil society organisations to facilitate their development and implementation on the ground, preventing them from becoming instruments used purely by government. It is essential to empower civil society organisations to take part and to encourage the formation of networks to enable the exchange of good practices and to pass on knowledge between their members.

4.   Specific comments

4.1   Simplification

4.1.1   The Commission stresses greater simplification by the use of flat rates and lump sums. This is a positive measure and could eliminate unnecessary red tape.

4.1.2   However, the EESC cannot support the proposal for a revision of eligible costs to exclude VAT and permanent staff costs (which generally account for around 30 %). If these costs are excluded, this will create additional difficulties for projects which are mainly developed by smaller civil society or local actors. Simplification should focus on substantial changes to forms, better advice during the drafting phase, flexibility in ex-post budget changes and a prior evaluation phase (screening). The EESC believes that some simplification measures specifically framed for the Integrated Projects should be extended to traditional projects, as in the case of creating two phases for selecting projects.

4.1.3   The proposal for a regulation substantially improves the complementarity between financial instruments as regards the confused wording of the current Article 9. The EESC supports the principle whereby the LIFE Programme should complement other EU funding programmes (European Regional Development Fund, Cohesion Fund, European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, etc.), improving coordination with a view to preventing double funding.

4.1.4   The new measures for simplifying the Programme's operation and management must be accompanied by more transparent project selection criteria and a reinforcement of the existing instruments for providing advice and guidance to potential beneficiaries.

4.2   Community objective/activities outside the Union

4.2.1   Indicative national allocations (Article 6 of the current regulation) will be replaced solely by as yet undefined geographical balance criteria in the Integrated Projects. The national allocations did not yield the expected results and did not provide incentives to smaller states or those with less experience of managing these funds. This change seems logical and is balanced by the Commission's introduction of geographical criteria for larger projects (Integrated Projects). Italy, Germany and Spain are currently the major beneficiaries, but states with less experience or technical preparation should be actively encouraged to participate.

4.2.2   The broadening of LIFE Programme's geographical scope seems appropriate but should not water down the LIFE Programme's Community character. Exceptions to the general rule should be limited to very specific cases and areas, such as marine or migratory species and international cooperation between organisations. The EESC agrees that a minimum of 15 % of the programme's funding should be provided through transnational projects.

4.2.3   Managing LIFE has hitherto been the Commission's sole responsibility, but it is not clear what role is to be assigned in the new proposal to the executive agencies, and the European Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation in particular in the context of traditional projects. In this connection it would be appropriate to ask the European Commission what powers the Executive Agency will have in selecting projects and what instruments will be used to strengthen the national contact points.

4.3   Natura 2000 network

4.3.1   The contribution of LIFE to the financing of the development of the Natura 2000 network is a priority which has yielded significant results. In the next period the LIFE Programme must continue to help improve the take-up of the Natura 2000 network by local stakeholders and government. It is therefore a matter of priority that LIFE should help consolidate common criteria for the management and administration of Natura 2000 areas. This task should be carried out with coordination from the European Commission and focus on those countries where introduction is most recent.

4.4   Co-financing

4.4.1   The maximum financing percentage for LIFE projects will be 70 % of eligible costs (previously 50 %). For Integrated Projects this can rise to 80 %, a percentage which will also apply to specific projects in support of particular needs for the development and implementation of Union policy or legislation, in consideration of the strategic value of those projects. This increase in co-financing is to compensate for the non-eligibility of certain very significant costs like VAT and permanent staff costs which were previously eligible. However, in the current period some projects in the area of biodiversity already benefit from 75 % co-financing. It would therefore be appropriate for the Commission to assess whether this level of co-financing is sufficient compensation, or whether a fixed, rather than maximum, co-financing percentage should be set.

4.5   Eco-innovation

4.5.1   In the current period most environmental policy or governance projects have been aimed at the application of innovative business or management methods. The impact assessment is very positive on advances in eco-innovation. However, the Commission is proposing limits to private-sector innovation, as it is already covered by other specific instruments like Horizon 2020.

4.6   Encouraging the participation of SMEs and NGOs

4.6.1   The new LIFE Programme has abandoned the previous purely bottom-up approach, and instead opts for a flexible top-down approach. The design of the Integrated Projects is the result of this philosophy. The EESC does not reject the Commission's new vision but would like to stress the importance of encouraging projects developed at local or regional level, which involve small firms and NGOs but which can produce major results at minimum cost.

4.6.2   The EESC agrees that projects funded by the LIFE Programme should effectively encourage the use of ecological public contracting.

4.7   Financing of environmental NGOs

4.7.1   The European Commission uses the LIFE instrument to finance environmental NGOs which participate in the European decision-making process. Traditionally around 30 organisations have benefited from this funding, with very positive results according to the Commission's analysis. The EESC acknowledges the work of these organisations, but feels that it would be appropriate to adapt the selection criteria for the granting of funds, so that other organisations making a major contribution to the environment and climate may benefit.

Brussels, 25 April 2012.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  OJ C 80, 30.3.2004, p. 57, OJ C 255, 14.10.2005, p. 52; OJ C 132, 3.5.2011, p. 75.

(2)  COM(2010) 2020 final.

(3)  COM(2011) 112 final.