In European Union SEA is a legally enforced assessment procedure required by Directive 2001/42/EC (the SEA Directive).
The SEA Directive applies to a wide range of public plans and programmes (e.g. on land use, transport, energy, waste, agriculture, etc). The SEA Directive does not refer to policies.
Plans and programmes in the sense of the SEA Directive must be prepared or adopted by an authority (at national, regional or local level) and be required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions.
An SEA is mandatory for plans/programmes which:
- are prepared for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, industry, transport, waste/ water management, telecommunications, tourism, town & country planning or land use and which set the framework for future development consent of projects listed in the EIA Directive.
- have been determined to require an assessment under the Habitats Directive.
For the plans/programmes not included above, the Member States have to carry out a screening procedure to determine whether the plans/programmes are likely to have significant environmental effects. If there are significant effects, an SEA is needed. The screening procedure is based on criteria set out in Annex II of the Directive.
The SEA procedure can be summarized as follows: an environmental report is prepared in which the likely significant effects on the environment and the reasonable alternatives of the proposed plan or programme are identified. The public and the environmental authorities are informed and consulted on the draft plan or programme and the environmental report prepared. As regards plans and programmes which are likely to have significant effects on the environment in another Member State, the Member State in whose territory the plan or programme is being prepared must consult the other Member State(s). On this issue the SEA Directive follows the general approach taken by the SEA Protocol to the UN ECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context.