Inside... the European Environment Agency
by Tony Carritt
Media Relations and Communication Manager, European Environment Agency EEA
This article was previously published in the European Information Association's European Information magazine, October 2001 and reprinted by the kind permission of the EIA see www.eia.org.uk.
The European Environment Agency was established by the European Union EU in 1990 and became operational in 1994 following a decision to locate it in Copenhagen. Although our name may suggest we are Europe's equivalent of the US Environmental Protection Agency - with its wide-ranging powers of regulation and enforcement - the EEA is, as our mission statement shows, an information provider.
In broad terms, the EEA's core task is to provide objective, reliable and comparable information to support the protection and improvement of the environment and the achievement of sustainable development. Our primary target audience is decision-makers, but the Agency's mandate also requires it to ensure the broad dissemination of environmental information to the public and to maintain a public reference centre of such information.
The EEA is currently unique among the EU agencies in having as members, besides EU Member States, any other countries that share its objectives and are able to participate in its activities. This gives us a pan-European vocation, and one that we are well on the way to fulfilling. The Agency's membership, which previously comprised the 15 EU Member States plus the three other European Economic Area countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), grew in August 2001 with the addition of six of the 13 countries seeking accession to the EU. This makes us the first EU institution to "enlarge" to the east and south.
We expect to admit the remaining seven accession countries, including Turkey, within the next few months, taking membership to 31 countries. Membership negotiations with Switzerland are also under way.
The Agency is headed by an Executive Director who oversees its functioning and reports to a Management Board. The Board consists of one representative from each EEA member country, two representatives of the European Commission and two scientific personnel nominated by the European Parliament. A Scientific Committee advises the Management Board on scientific matters. Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán, formerly director-general for environment in Spain, has been Executive Director since the Agency began operations but has announced his intention to retire from the post at the end of May 2002.
Our staff currently totals around 80 but is expected to grow to around 120 by the end of 2002 in line with our expanding membership.
In carrying out its mandate, the Agency sees its main objectives as being to assist the EU and EEA member countries to:
- Identify, frame, prepare and implement sound and effective environmental policy measures and legislation; and
- Monitor, evaluate and assess actual and expected progress in the implementation and results of such measures.
Our main clients are those involved in the development, adoption and implementation of policy in the European Commission, European Parliament, European Union Council of Ministers and EEA member countries. They are not only in the field of environment but also in economic sectors such as energy and agriculture that impact on the environment and thus need to take it into consideration. Other key clients are those who influence policy - environmental pressure groups, business and industry, the media and interested members of the public.
Following the adoption of an European Union strategy on sustainable development by heads of state and government at their Gothenburg summit in June 2001, our information will increasingly be used in this broader context to show how the environmental dimension of sustainable development is faring. The EEA will be responsible for contributing a number of the indicators that will be used by the European Commission to evaluate the European Union's progress towards its sustainable development goals – economic, social and environmental – each spring.
How we collect information
The Agency carries out its mission by drawing on the resources of the European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET), a network of over 600 environmental bodies and institutions across Europe which the EEA is mandated by its founding regulation to establish and coordinate in cooperation with member states. We also cooperate with other international environmental agencies and organisations, such as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the OECD), as well as with Eurostat, the EU statistical office. The EEA tries to bring together, in compatible formats, the best environmental data by building on the work of existing bodies and avoiding duplication. These data are then analysed and turned into information that can be used by policy-makers and the public.
The EIONET comprises:
- European Topic Centres (ETCs). These are centres of expertise formed by
international consortia of specialist organisations to assist the EEA in
carrying out its work programme. There are currently five ETCs covering the
following topic areas:
- Air and climate change
- Nature protection and biodiversity
- Waste and material flows
- Terrestrial environment
- National Focal Points (NFPs). These coordinate each country's contribution to the network. They also assist in the preparation, implementation and follow-up of the EEA's work programme and the development of the EIONET. The role is usually taken by national ministries or environment agencies.
- National Reference Centres (NRCs). Each member country establishes these for different areas of activity, usually corresponding to the ETC areas. The NRCs help with technical coordination on these topics and work with the relevant topic centres, either directly or through the national focal points.
- Main Component Elements. These are the collectors, interpreters and suppliers of environmental data and those with expertise in environmental science, monitoring or modelling. About a quarter are NRCs.
Each member country is responsible for organising the relationship between their national focal point, reference centres and main component elements.
Our products and services
The most visible way in which the Agency uses the information it collects is in the production of reports. The EEA's publications cover a broad spectrum and are targeted at different user groups. Flagship products are our five-yearly reports assessing the state of the pan-European environment and the outlook for it, and the annual Environmental signals series of reports based on updates of key environmental indicators.
We also produce reports on specific environmental issues or topics – recent examples include soil degradation and sustainable water use - as well as technical reports dealing with environmental monitoring questions. In 2000 the Agency issued a total of 42 publications.
Mindful that not everyone has time to read full-length reports in these days of information overload, we also produce self-standing summary versions of the main publications, often in all 13 of the EEA member countries' languages. In addition, a regular "thematic" newsletter focussing on one environmental theme per issue and intended for a broad readership, is due to be launched shortly. A more general newsletter about the Agency's findings and activities is under consideration.
The EEA's services are largely centred on our website, www.eea.europa.eu, through which all Agency products can also be accessed.
How we disseminate our information
The website has rapidly overtaken conventional distribution channels to become the main vehicle for disseminating our information and the data underpinning it. One of the most comprehensive public information services on the environment available on the internet, it contains a wide range of material from the EEA and its EIONET partners – in particular the topic centres - as well as giving access to information from other national and international sources. The site logs around 100,000 user sessions per month.
The website offers full-text, pdf versions of virtually all reports the EEA has produced, an increasing number of them in different language versions. These can be downloaded for free, whereas printed versions usually carry a charge. A variety of information directories and databases can be accessed, including the data on which our reports are based. We have developed a service that allows users to download these data and review them on their own computer or to produce customised graphs. Another website-based service the EEA runs is the European Community Clearinghouse Mechanism for Biological Diversity, which facilitates sharing of information on biodiversity internationally.
Part of the Agency's mandate is to stimulate the exchange of information on best practices and the website contributes to this through an innovative service called EnviroWindows. This feature provides a virtual "marketplace" where business organisations, local authorities and any other stakeholder groups can share information, both with the public and, in a restricted area, among themselves. The EEA provides the web infrastructure for free but does not control the content pooled on EnviroWindows.
New content and services are regularly being added to the EEA website, one of the most recent being a Press Room providing one-click access to news releases, announcements, speeches and new reports. A further major new feature is the strengthening of online information about specific environmental themes through the addition of a set of interactive pages using key indicators to show the current situation and recent trends.
The data and information accessible through the EEA website form the core of the reference centre that the Agency is mandated to maintain. Another important facet of the reference centre, and one with a more human face, is our public information centre. The information centre staff field an average of 25 enquiries a day, mostly by e-mail but also by telephone and fax and from visitors to our offices in central Copenhagen. Academic researchers, consultants, government officials, non-governmental organisations and libraries tend to be the main clients of this service.
The Agency is also increasingly active towards the media and has a full-time media relations manager to produce communications material and handle media enquiries.
Successful environmental policy and management is not only about coping with disasters but also about detecting, analysing and responding to the slow-moving, underlying trends that may cause problems in the future. The EEA's role is central in anticipating such changes in the making and helping Europe to respond in time.
For further information about the EEA contact:
Tony Carritt, Media Relations and Communication Manager
European Environment Agency, Kongens Nytorv 6, DK-1050 Copenhagen DENMARK
Tel (direct): +45 3336 7147; Mobile: +45 2368 3669; Fax: +45 3336 7198
Visit the EEA's press room at www.eea.europa.eu/pressroom
For further information about the EIA contact:
European Information Association, Central Library, St Peter's Square, Manchester M2 5PD, UK
Tel: +44 (0)161 228 3691 Fax: +44 (0)161 236 6547
Email: email@example.com Web: www.eia.org.uk