European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker said he wished to ‘leave a healthier planet behind for those that follow’ in his State of the Union address this week.

Environmentalists responded by pointing out that this ‘wish’ has failed to inform his policies or priorities over the last four years of the commission.

In his final State of the Union address to the European Parliament, President Juncker used his parting words to outline a vision for better environment saying: “The trees we plant today must provide shade for our great grand-children whether they hail from East or West, South or North. To give them all they need to grow and breath easily.”

Environmental groups welcomed the sentiment but pointed out his poor record on environmental issues.

“While it is heartening to hear President Juncker stress the importance of climate change and present a vision of a Europe which helps create a better world for future generations, his track record on environmental issues has been poor,”said Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). 

“He should now use his remaining months in office to step up the ambition on concrete policies that will lead to a healthier planet.

“Surveys have shown again and again that European’s want more action on the environment. The next Commission President must deliver on this and understand that leaving behind a healthy planet means more than just robust climate action – we also need action to protect biodiversity, ensure clean air and water and eliminate harmful chemicals.”

Picking up on President Juncker’s comments on the rule of law he added:

“President Juncker has once again stressed the importance of the rule of law. While he is right to do so, it is still somewhat surprising as his administration has done everything it could to prevent citizens and environmental groups from accessing justice at the European Court of Justice. Under the Aarhus Convention, Europeans should be able to pursue justice on environmental issues through Europe’s highest courts but this has been blocked by the commission. President Juncker needs to understand that commitment to the rule of law cannot be selective.

“He cannot berate others for not upholding the law while openly violating a key international law ensuring democratic rights.”

The EEB also highlighted how Juncker’s Better Regulation agenda, which is a programme of deregulation, needs to be redesigned so that it protects citizens’ health and the environment.

The lack of mention of the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda was also criticised.

“Three years after the international community agreed on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, President Juncker still refuses to bring himself to even mention sustainability or the Global Goals. This is deeply worrying as we need to bring the Sustainable Development Goals to the heart of policymaking at the European Union and Member State level,” said Patrizia Heidegger, the EEB’s Director of Global Policies and Sustainability. 

“The debate on the Future of Europe, which President Juncker has called for, needs to focus on how to ensure the well-being of all while protecting our planet’s finite resources.”

On trade agreements, Ms Heidegger, said:

“We agree with President Juncker that we need to use our power as the world’s largest market to ensure high environmental and social standard in global trade. However, we cannot continue to use other parts of the world to exploit cheap labour and raw materials.

“Trade agreements should benefit people, workers and small producers, in particular in developing countries, and protect them from negative environmental impact.

“Trade too needs to operate within the carrying capacity of our planet and the circular economy which the commission promotes requires global reductions in material flows. We do not need more trade, but better trade.”