Switzerland has officially joined the European Environment Agency (EEA), which assesses the state of the environment across the continent.This content was published on April 3, 2006 - 07:47
The Swiss would like to see the institution focus on noise protection, non-ionising radiation from mobile phones and gene technology.
On a map of European industrial pollution, Switzerland has been a blank spot until now. Not because Swiss industry is clean as a whistle, but because the European Union's databases contain very little information about Switzerland.
With the Swiss having joined the EEA on April 1, all that is about to change. In the future, data about Switzerland, in particular who and where the worst polluters are, will be added to the database.
"Our collaboration with the EEA will allow us to compare the Swiss environment with the rest of Europe," said Markus Wüest of the Swiss Environment Agency. It will also give the Swiss direct access to the EEA's figures and reports.
Around 150 people work at the EEA's offices in Copenhagen, helping set the tone for the European Union's environmental policy, as well as collaborating with seven other nations including Norway and Turkey.
For the past three years, the agency hasn't just compiled sets of facts and figures to pass on to the European Commission. It has also been evaluating EU environmental policies and finding out just how well they are actually working, giving the EEA more of a watchdog role.
New member Switzerland wants to influence the agency's work. "We want to convince the EEA to take a harder look at issues of interest to us," Wüest told swissinfo.
Some of those themes could be non-ionising (low energy) radiation, noise pollution and surveillance of gene technology.
Even though the Swiss voted in favour of moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture last year, Wüest reckons that it is necessary to understand the impact of this technology.
"The moratorium runs out in five years time," he added. "We should use this period to scientifically evaluate the impact of the increasing use of GMOs in agriculture across Europe."
Wüest says that one of the goals is to come up with figures recognised by both the Swiss and EU, which could be then used for example during talks on alpine transit or air traffic.
Switzerland will be able to influence the agency at a different level. Despite being an EU institution, it has its own budget and board, with a Swiss representative.
Swiss citizens will also be able to apply for jobs at the agency, "We want to make sure that qualified Swiss scientists are considered when the agency undertakes outside mandates," Wüest told swissinfo.
It will cost Switzerland SFr2 million ($1.5 million) per year to be a member of the EEA. Wüest reckons it is money well spent compared with the annual SFr6 billion outlay of the Swiss public and private sectors for environmental protection.
"The statistics and the surveys carried out by the agency will help distribute funding for environmental protection more efficiently," he added.
swissinfo, Simon Thönen in Brussels
The EEA is the EU body dedicated to providing independent information on the environment.
It serves as an information source for those involved in developing, adopting, implementing and evaluating environmental policy, as well as the general public.
The EEA provides a wide range of information and assessments of the state of the environment and trends; pressures on the environment and the driving forces behind them; policies and their effectiveness.
It is the first EU agency Switzerland has joined.
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