Archaeology and the EU Environmental Impact Assessment Directive

About the Community

Established: 2016
Last renewed:
Karen Waugh (

The European Union (EU) Directive on ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ (EIA) is the only piece of EU legislation which directly relates to archaeology and cultural heritage and deals with it in any substantial way. For this reason, it is of particular importance to the EAA. In fact, one can say that the Directive, and the manner of its implementation in the different member states of the EU, reflects a key issue for the EAA (and, indeed, for the EU): how to achieve the common societal goal of archaeological heritage protection and management against a background of widely varying local situations and approaches.

A large portion of development-led archaeology in Europe takes place on projects which are subject to EIA (such as land and sea-based infrastructure projects, urban expansion, forestry, mining and extraction etc.). The EIA Directive, therefore has a direct impact on almost everyone whose work is connected with development-led archaeology. By association, it has an impact on almost everyone who works in, or on, European archaeology for two main reasons. The first is the fact that the Directive is responsible for the discovery and investigation of very large amounts of new archaeological sites and material. The second, because it is an important EU-wide legal instrument, is that it prompts comparison of approaches in methods and practice. This suggests that greater harmonisation might be needed. The Directive has potential implications for the archaeological profession that extend well beyond the body of individual development projects that require EIA.

For all of these reasons, it is proposed to establish an EAA working party to consider the implication of the Directive for archaeological practice in Europe. This proposal comes out of discussions held at EAA Annual Conferences at Istanbul (2014) and Glasgow (2015). It also follows up the earlier Interreg-funded ‘PlanArch’ projects between partners England, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. The PlanArch guiding principles for cultural heritage in Environmental Impact Assessments represented a very important step forward and were subsequently adopted by the EAA (see report by John Williams in TEA no. 24 Winter 2005/2006).

The full scope of the proposed Working Party’s activities will depend on whether or not it is possible to obtain external funding for project work (similar to the PlanArch projects, for example). At this stage, the following activities are proposed:

  • To review the operation of the Directive in relation to archaeology and cultural heritage, and to make recommendations on how the Directive itself, its implementation, or both could be improved.

  • To see how far EIA regulations can be used to improve the integration of the needs of spatial planning and research. The objective here would be to promote a more useful or relevant archaeological “return on investment” not only for the developer (accurate risk identification and management), but for archaeological ‘knowledge gain’ and ultimately, the wider public good. The Directive’s concept of ‘off-setting’ (a gain of one kind – knowledge – to off-set harm of another kind – the loss of physical deposits) is very relevant in this regard.

  • One specific (and important) aim of the proposed Working Party is to ensure that EAA is well positioned to make considered and well-informed responses to future consultations by the European Commission on any proposed amendments to the EIA Directive. This will involve an examination of the Directive in relationship to the Valletta Convention, to identify the extent to which they align with each other, and to make proposals on what changes should be sought in the event that either instrument is revised in the future.

  • to examine the Faro Convention (the framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society, 2005) in relation to the EIA Directive, with a view to identifying whether the Directive (or its implementation) would benefit from future amendment to reflect the provisions of the Faro Convention.

  • to make contact with EAC and agree the scope of possible collaboration on this issue. (EAC represents state heritage services, which are obviously directly concerned with the impact of national spatial planning systems (of which EIA is a part) on the archaeological heritage).

  • to establish a network of EAA members, covering as many EU states as possible, who can report on the application of EIA to spatial planning and heritage protection in their countries. (It should be noted that the EIA Directive is implemented through the domestic land-use legislation of each member state. It is accepted that the task of tracking how the Directive has been implemented in each country would be a major task. The Working Party needs to be realistic about what can be achieved in terms of analysing different national arrangements).

  • to consider whether there is a need for a larger funded project in future to examine the implementation and effectiveness of the Directive in future. If such a need is found, to outline the scope of such a study, and to identify possible sources of funding for it.

  • to organise a session at the EAA Annual Meeting in 2016. The discussions at Istanbul and Glasgow revealed an appetite for further discussion of this important matter.

  • to report regularly to the EAA Board, and to the ABM, on the progress of proposed Working Party’s activities.


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Archaeology and the EU Environmental Impact Assessment Directive
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