The polluter pays principle requires that polluters should bear the costs of their pollution. But this is not always the case in the EU, as reported today by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). While the principle is generally reflected in the EU’s environmental policies, its coverage remains incomplete and it is applied unevenly across sectors and Member States. As a result, public money – instead of polluters’ – is sometimes used to fund clean-up actions, the auditors point out.
In the EU, nearly 3 million sites are potentially contaminated, primarily by industrial activity and waste treatment and disposal. Six in ten bodies of surface water, such as rivers and lakes, are not in good chemical and ecological condition. Air pollution, a major health risk in the EU, also damages vegetation and ecosystems. All of this entails significant costs for EU citizens. The polluter pays principle holds polluters responsible for their pollution and the environmental damage they cause. It is polluters, and not taxpayers, who are supposed to cover the associated costs.
“To deliver the EU’s Green Deal ambitions efficiently and fairly, polluters need to pay for the environmental damage they cause”, said Viorel Ștefan, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “Up to now, though, European taxpayers have far too often been forced to bear the costs that polluters should have paid.”