The EU has around 500 directives that relate to environmental and climate protection. These regulations have often proved successful, but have also led to a number of difficulties in member states.
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Germany is often cited as a model for the environmental sector. Ninety-two percent of Germans regard the environment as being an important topic, according to a study by Germany's top state-run environmental agencies. German enthusiasm for environmental protection, which had fallen in the 1990s, appears to be on the rise again.
Both new and renovated homes will have to contain proper insulation, as an energy saving measure.
This increased environmental conscience has been reinforced by a number of new laws. Anyone deciding to build a new house or to redevelop an existing one, for example, is now bound by the energy saving directive that insists on sufficient thermal insulation being used. This, naturally, reduces the amount of thermal energy that is lost, reducing energy usage, and saving the householder on energy bills.
Fixed price for green electricity
Germany has also introduced an energy usage law, which was drawn up to increase the amount of solar, wind, water and biogas energy pumped into the electricity market. Consumers that use an eco-electricity company not only benefit from state subsidies but also a fixed price for every kilowatt hour they consume from the national grid.
Germans are also world leaders when it comes to sorting rubbish. They want an end to the use of atomic energy, are full subscribers to the Kyoto Protocol and are the first nation in Europe to have elected a green party as partners in a coalition government. Environmental policies are high on the national agenda.
Less enthusiasm elsewhere
That's not so much the case in Britain, even though the country, at least as far as following EU directives goes, ranks high in environmental protection.
The disposal of rubbish like refrigerators, for instance, has led to many problems in the island nation. The British parliament failed to pass legislation to ensure that the harmful gases emitted from refrigerators are dealt with adequately. As a result, the whole country is full of old refrigerators awaiting proper disposal.
Each year Britain emits around five million tons of toxic waste, which were dumped next to household rubbish until recently. Since last summer, this practice has been stopped, according to EU legislation. The number of dump sites that now accept toxic material is in decline, which leads to a fear that the practice of illegally dumping such substances could now be on the increase.
Britain may be struggling to provide adequate disposal facilities for poisionous waste.
But Elliot Morley, cabinet minister for the environment, is convinced that after some initial problems, there are now ample storage and disposal facilities for toxic material.
"We have enough dumps," he said. "It will mean an unavoidable reduction in the space available at the dump sites, which is to be expected in the early stages (of the new directive's) introduction. Yes, we will begin to increase the number of landfill sites available, and when the needs for the disposal of toxic waste increases, the industry will surely react."
The government hopes that the new directives that industry is currently bringing on stream, will lead to less poisonous waste being generated. But it does depend on the necessary legislation and the industry's readiness to organize itself on how best to deal with the disposal of harmful substances.
Discussions on how the decontamination of poisonous substances can be brought under control with the help of tax measures have been going on for years. A corresponding bill is yet to be introduced, In the meantime, a new business is flourishing, where truck drivers pick up poisonous substances, and then dump them illegally out on the streets.
Romania remains a problem child
EU accession candidate Romania is working on its environmental policy. Measures included in the progress report from the European Union show that they are content that adjustments required in EU policy have been reached. But the new environmental laws have not yet been implemented. Corruption in the country is the biggest issue.
The Greens in Hungary seem to have been given some encouragement. On the points of environmental policy, rubbish sorting and recycling, and water usage, there exist local directives, but there can often be a shortage of implementation.
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The French are struggling with a completely different problem: Since the recent sharp rise in oil prices the country is becoming more and more reliant on nuclear energy. Independence from crude oil is an argument for those who are fans of nuclear power.
Permit-trading of dangerous substances
The environmental policy in Europe should help to reduce the emission of harmful substances. The beginning of 2005 will see the start of an emission trading system between the EU's 25 member states. The first multinational emission trading system in the world is the cornerstone of the EU's objective to fulfil the targets of the Kyoto Protocol. Between 2008 and 2012, an 8 percent reduction in levels of carbon dioxide emissions is to be achieved, compared to 1990 levels.