On September 14, 2009, the European Commission issued a Report to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the application and effectiveness of the directive on strategic environmental assessment (Directive 2001/42/EC- hereinafter the “SEA Directive”) The Report is available here.

The SEA Directive requires certain public plans and programs (P&P) to undergo an environmental assessment before they are adopted. The P&P covered by the Directive are subject to an environmental assessment during their preparation, and before their adoption. This includes the drawing up of an environmental report in which the likely significant effects on the environment and the reasonable alternatives are identified, and the carrying out of consultations (with the public, the environmental authorities, and with other member states (MS) in the case of transboundary impacts). The environmental report and the results of the consultations are taken into account before adoption. Once a P&P is adopted, the environmental authorities and the public are informed and relevant information is made available to them. In order to identify unforeseen adverse effects at an early stage, significant environmental effects of the P&P are to be monitored.

According to the Report, consideration and identification of alternatives in the environmental report is one of the few issues that have given rise to problems in MS. Extensive national guidelines have been developed by some MS in order to provide support for the identification and selection of reasonable alternatives in individual procedures. However, the majority of MS have not defined how this should be done. Most national legislations do not provide a specific definition of ‘reasonable alternatives’ or a number of alternatives that must be assessed; the choice of ‘reasonable alternatives’ is determined by means of a case-by-case assessment and a decision. All MS report that the ‘do-nothing’ alternative has to be included in the environmental report on a mandatory basis.

With respect to consultations, the Report explains that since the SEA Directive does not provide detailed specifications about the procedures for public consultation, a wide range of methods are used: public announcements, publication in official journals or the press, public meetings, internet surveys and questionnaires.  The Commission also points out that general experience shows that public consultation, especially when organized at an early stage of planning and when understood as a process, contributes to a higher acceptance of the P&P, and therefore to the early identification and resolution of conflicts.

Furthermore, the Report refers to the relationship of the SEA Directive with other EU legislation, including the Habitats and the Environmental Impact Assessment Directives.