MEPs agree position on Soil Monitoring Law

EU proposes Soil Monitoring Law

By Jenny Brunton, Senior European Policy Advisor

On 10 April 2024, MEPs approved their final report on the first EU legislation to give soil a protection status similar to that of air and water. The soil monitoring directive, proposed by the Commission in July 2023, creates a mechanism to allow member states to monitor and report progress toward restoring EU soils by 2050.

MEPs backed the overall aim of having healthy soils by 2050, in line with the zero pollution ambition, & agree on the need for a harmonised definition of soil health & a “comprehensive & coherent monitoring framework to foster sustainable soil management & remediate contaminated sites.” Under the new law, Member States will have to monitor & assess the health of their soils, while they will decide on the best words to describe each type of soil at national level.

The new Soil Monitoring Law provides a legal framework to help achieve healthy soils by 2050. It will do so by

  • putting in place a solid and coherent monitoring framework for all soils across the EU so Member States can take measures to regenerate degraded soils
  • making sustainable soil management the norm in the EU. Member States will have to define which practices should be implemented by soil managers and which should be banned because they cause soil degradation
  • requesting Member States to identify potentially contaminated sites, investigate these sites and address unacceptable risks for human health and the environment, thereby contributing to a toxic-free environment by 2050.

The long-term objective of the Directive is to achieve healthy soils by 2050. In light of the limited knowledge about the condition of soils and about the effectiveness and costs of the measures to regenerate their health, the directive takes a staged approach.

In a second stage, and once the results of the first assessment of soils and trends analysis are available, the Commission will take stock of the progress towards the 2050 objective and the experience thereof, and will propose a review of the directive if necessary to accelerate progress towards 2050.

MEPs have proposed a five-level classification of soil health (high, good, moderate ecological status, degraded, & critically degraded soils). Soils with good or high ecological status would be considered healthy. Member States will have to “investigate, assess & clean up contaminated sites to address unacceptable risks to human health & the environment due to soil contamination,” and “Costs must be paid by polluters in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle.”

When discussing contaminated soil, it was agreed that a public list defining such sites in all Member States should be issued at the latest four years after entry into force of this Directive while an investigation, an assessment and a cleaning of these sites should be conducted by the Member States.

The plenary vote removed changes to the legislation endorsed by the Environment Committee, notably by deleting a legally binding timeline to improve the state of soils and rejecting references to voluntary targets for soil health restoration. They also removed provisions forcing Member States to apply soil indicators, stating that national authorities “may” apply those that “best illustrate” specific soil characteristics.  Specific provisions were also made to protect land manager’s private data.

CEJA, the European Council of Young Farmers, praised the Parliament’s vote for recognising the threats posed by land take – which refers to converting agricultural or natural land for urban development or infrastructure purposes. However, CEJA fears that some of the legislation’s elements, such as the “tier system approach” for assessing soil health, could burden national authorities and farmers.

Christiane Lambert, President of COPA, praised the Parliament’s position as a “more pragmatic and realistic version” of the text proposed by the European Commission.

Next steps

EU environment ministers are expected to adopt a common position during a Council meeting on 17 June, after the Parliament elections. Interinstitutional negotiations on the file could start after the summer, with a new Parliament.