Take-aways from the EU Commission's second soil expert group meeting
In spite of the ambition of the EU Soil Strategy and the positive approach of the first soil expert group meeting, there are multiple points on which the Commission needs to readdress and not step back.
On 7 February, the second meeting of the European Commission’s enlarged Soil Expert Group took place in Brussels, Belgium. Members of the group include Member State representatives and experts from various interest groups, among them research institutes, and trade and business associations. CEEweb is one of three NGOs participating in this multi-year cooperation, along with Agroecology Europe and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).
The group of 40 experts supports the Commission in the implementation of the EU Soil Strategy and the development of the future EU Soil Health Law (SHL). After the first meeting of the expert group in October 2022, members looked forward to the second meeting with high expectations. Participating experts got to know the main findings of the Soil Health Law impact assessment and provided critical feedback. The future SHL will take the form of a directive and aims to harmonise our understanding of healthy soils and work in coherence with other pieces of legislation (e.g. CAP, WFD, Nature Directives, Nature Restoration Law) in order to achieve the ultimate objective of having European soils in a healthy state by 2050. As part of this work, a network of monitoring entities will be created. The SHL will furthermore offer principles on sustainable soil management.
In spite of the ambition of the EU Soil Strategy and the positive approach of the first soil expert group meeting, there are multiple points on which the Commission seem to have stepped back on. With regard to the so-called add-ons, the impact assessment proposes no specific targets on net land take, even though it has come to the conclusion that soil sealing and land take are the greatest threats to soils in Europe. The Soil Strategy considered introducing soil health certificates, but without an existing monitoring network, the impact assessment found that at this stage this cannot be expected from Member States. The Commission, furthermore, has no intention to address the point of excavated soils and the former nutrient loss reduction objective either in its SHL proposal.
Participating experts from both Member States and interest groups expressed their concern during the meeting on the Commission’s intention not to include specific targets on no net land take and nutrient loss, as well as on providing only voluntary guidelines on some aspects of sustainable soil management, while potentially allowing obviously harmful practices to continue. In response, the Commission’s representatives tried to assure participating experts that the Land Planning Hierarchy of the EU Soil Strategy would still apply in the SHL, that the issue of nutrient losses would be addressed by the EU Integrated Nutrient Management Action Plan, and that, in the future, as soon as an EU-wide soil monitoring network will be set up, the Commission might reconsider its former objective on soil health certificates for the SHL.
The Commission’s proposal is expected to be published on 7 June. Until then, bilateral discussions may continue between the Commission’s relevant units and the experts of the Soil Expert Group.