In the nineteenth century, steam engine, petrol engine and technological machinery in industry were the main contributors for a noisy environment. With the development of diesel engine, jet engines, increase in use of faster industrial production machinery including construction site machinery and increased volume of road traffic, all aggravated and intensified noise pollution in the twentieth century. 
Action to reduce environmental noise was not given any priority when compared to other environmental problems such as air and water pollution. It was argued in the Commission Green Paper that this lack of interest in noise pollution was due to the fact that 'noise is very much a local problem with very varied perceptions in different parts of the community as to the acceptability of the problem'. 
However although there was this lack of legal interest in noise pollution, people not only regarded noise as a component that deteriorates the environment but recognised also that it is 'unjustifiable interference and imposition upon human comfort, health and the quality of modern life'  . Therefore the governments, back in 1969 started regulating noise in various statutes. The European Commission in the 'Future Noise Policy' (Green Paper) pointed out that
All member states have similar classifications of the sources of environmental noise related to the different human activities: road traffic, rail traffic, air traffic, industry, civil engineering and building site activities, recreational activities, outdoor equipment (such as gardening equipment).2
EC Legislation on Noise: the evolution of noise regulation in the EU before the adoption of the Directive 2002/49/EC
Over the past 30 years, the EU's environmental policy objectives have been presented in Action Programme. The second European Action Programme (EAP) 1978 developed the issue of noise abatement. It contained a whole chapter on measures against noise where it sets out hazardous effects that noise may have on the human health. This EAP pointed out that member states have drawn up a number of regulations regulating noise emissions. Therefore in order to solve the problem of hampering the common market, the community decided to adopt an anti-noise policy. 
Jans hold that
Community legislation on noise can broadly be divided into two categories. In the first place there are a large number of directives harmonising national regulations on anything from motor mowers to goods vehicles and prescribing maximum permissible noise levels. [â€¦] In the second place there is a certain amount of legislative activity in connection with noise produced by aircrafts. 
On the other hand, Miriam Markus-Johansson et al in Handbook on the Implementation of EC Environmental Legislation, argued that the existing 'noise control legislation can be divided into four categories: motor vehicles, aeroplanes, outdoor equipment, and household appliances'  . However the authors lack to make reference to legislation on railway and also industrial noise. Therefore I would say that there are five categories: road transport to include railway besides motor vehicles and the fifth category would be industrial noise.
Under EU legislation, motor vehicles are divided in two categories: motor vehicles with at least four wheels and motor vehicles with two- or three-wheel.
Noise from motor vehicles with at least four wheels
Being the main contributor to environmental noise especially in urban areas, the European Union sought to harmonise noise requirements for road vehicles back in 1970, through Directive 70/157/EC. Add to this the directive introduced limits on sound levels of road vehicles and specific procedures for measuring sound levels of exhaust systems and silencers. 
Noise from two and three wheel motor vehicles
Mopeds and motorcycles are another major road traffic noise contributors mainly due to reckless driving behaviour and / or tampering of the exhaust system. Directive 97/24/EC establishes permissible sound limits from two and three wheel vehicles and requirements for exhaust systems, including replacement parts, and provides measures to counter tampering.10
Directive 2001/43/EC regulates noise limits generated by motor vehicles and trailers tyres where the tyres meet the road. 'These limits differentiate between vehicle type (cars, vans and trucks) and tyre width (5 classes) and will be enforced by including tyre noise tests in EC type-approval certificate requirements, which must be met for any tyre to be placed on the EU market'. 
A number of initiatives where undertaken by the European Commission to limit railway noise. It even set up a 'Railway' working group in order to elaborate the technical and economic aspects of the reduction of noise emissions from rail transport systems. 
Directive 96/48/EC on the interoperability of the trans-European high-speed rail system, which has been detailed further through:
Commission Decision 2002/735/EC on technical specifications for interoperability (TSI) relating to high-speed rolling stock
Commission Decision 2002/732/EC on technical specifications for interoperability (TSI) relating to high-speed railway infrastructure
Directive 2001/16/EC on the interoperability of the conventional trans-European rail system, supplemented by:
Commission Decision 2004/446/EC specifying the basic parameters of the Noise, Freight Wagons and Telematic applications for freight technical specifications for interoperability referred to in Directive 2001/16/EC
Directive 2004/50/EC of 29 April 2004 amending Council Directive 96/48/EC and Directive 2001/16/EC
Commission Decision 2006/66/EC concerning the technical specifications for interoperability relating to the subsystem rolling stock - noise
Aircraft noise was first regulated by the European Commission in 1979 through Directive 80/51/EEC which was followed by Directive 89/629/EEC. The former deals with limitations of noise emissions from subsonic aircraft registered in the territory of member states (which was later extended by Directive 83/206/EEC to include aircrafts from non-EU member states but flying to EU destinations), while the latter directive prohibited noisy aircraft from being registered in member states. Following these two directives was Directive 92/14/EEC which was based on standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), to ban the noisiest aircraft from European airports, that is, aircrafts covered by Chapter 2 of Annex 16 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation also known as the Chicago Convention, which aircrafts were not allowed to operate in the EU after April 2002.
Another directive based on one of ICAO's resolutions is Directive 2002/30/EC where it applies the principle of balanced approach to noise management around airports. This approach comprises four principal elements: reduction of aircraft noise at source, land-use planning and management measures, noise abatements operational procedures and operating restrictions. 
The EU Commission drew up at least seven directives covering noise from various outdoor equipment, whereby it regulated permissible noise levels, noise level marking affixed on the equipment, and noise measurements standard of about 57 items (i.e. 63 types of machinery). To simplify matters the European Parliament and Council adopted Directive 2000/14/EC relating to noise emission in the environment from equipment for use outdoors. The main features of this directive are 'harmonisation of noise emission limits and standards, harmonisation of conformity assessment procedures, harmonisation of noise level marking and compilation of data on noise emissions'. 
Industrial noise is covered by the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive 96/61/EC whereby member states' authorities must take the issue of noise into consideration when issuing permits to operators of the large industrial and agricultural installations. This directive is applicable also to existing installations that are to undergo a substantial change.15
Household Appliances Noise
Although the directive relating with this type of noise is quite recent and has been regulated for after Directive 2002/49 EC came into force, I think it is important to make a quick reference to this directive. 'Directive 2005/32/EC established a framework for the setting of eco-design requirements for energy-using products, provides standards and procedures governing the provision of accurate information on the noise level of household application'. 
The Salient Features of Directive 2002/49/EC
The scope of this directive is to regulate
environmental noise to which humans are exposed in built-up areas, in public parks or other quiet areas ... 
this directive does not apply to noise that is caused by the exposed persons himself, noise from domestic activities, noise created by neighbours, noise at work places or noise inside means of transport or due to military activities in military areas. 
Article 3 (a) of the Environmental Noise Directive (END) define environmental noise as
The aim of this directive is to define a common approach intended to avoid, prevent or reduce on a prioritised basis the harmful effects  , including annoyance, due to exposure to environmental noise. Further objectives of the said directive include that information on environmental noise and its effect is made available to the public, there is to be noise mapping and also the adoption of action plans by the Member States. This leads me to the salient feature of END.
Directive 2002/49/EC establish the concept of strategic noise mapping whereby assessment is made in an area which is exposed to noise due to different noise sources. This is highly regulated under Annex IV of the said Directive.
By 18 July 2005 member states were to make available to the public information regarding which is the competent authority to draw the noise maps. Furthermore, from 30 June 2005 and thereafter every five years, member states are to inform the Commission of the major roads which have more than six million vehicle passengers a year, railways which have more than 60,000 train passenger a year, major airports and the agglomerations with more than 250,000 inhabitants within their territory. By 30 June 2007, strategic noise maps showing the situation of the preceding year were to be drawn up - the first stage. Then we have the second stage, 30 June 2008, where again member states were to inform the Commission of agglomeration with more than 100,000 inhabitants, major roads with three million vehicles, major railways with 30,000 passenger and airports remained unchanged. Then by 30 June 2012 another set of strategic noise maps are to be drawn up showing the situation in the previous calendar years. Noise maps must be reviewed, and revised if necessary, every five years. 
Action plans are aimed at managing noise issues and effects, including noise reduction if necessary. They must meet the minimum requirements set out in Annex V to the Directive.
Not later than 18 July 2008, action plans must be drawn up for major roads which have more than six million vehicle passages a year, railways which have more than 60,000 train passages per year, major airports and agglomerations with more than 250,000 inhabitants. Add to this, not later than 18 July 2013, another set of action plans must be drawn up for all major agglomerations, major airports, major roads and major railways. The action plans are to be reviewed when a major development occurs affecting the existing noise situation, and at least every five years. Through the action plan, the competent authority is to manage noise issues in mapped areas and also protect quiet areas against an increase in noise. 
Information for the citizen
Member states are to ensure that a public consultation is organised and the results thereof are taken into account before the action plans are approved. Member states are to ensure that the strategic noise maps and the action plans are made available and disseminated to the public in conformity with Annex IV and V to Directive 2002/49/EC, thereby involving the citizens.
What is the main distinction between the directives prior to Directive 2002/49/EC and Directive 2002/49/EC itself?
For more than 30 years, European noise policy consisted primarily of fixing maximum sound levels through legislation with a view to complete the single market. As such this has not been conceived as part of an overall environmental noise abatement program. As already pointed out, the directives dealt with motor vehicles, aircraft, trains and railway, industrial machinery and household appliances. On the other hand, Directive 2002/49/EC does not set maximum levels of noise but aims to provide a common basis for tackling noise problems across the EU, thus shifting from pollution control to pollution prevention  i.e. it seeks to harmonise noise indicators and portray the information in the form of noise maps and make such information available to the public. The member states competent authorities (in Malta being the MEPA) are to draw up strategic noise maps for major roads, railways and airports and agglomerations using harmonised noise indicators.  Thus this directive 'does not seek to set common Europe-wide noise limits' but 'it will form the basis for goal setting for improvement at the EU level and for the development of an EU strategy including measures'. 
I believe that the END came about because during the past 15 years or more there was no significant improvement in exposure to environment noise especially road traffic noise. The expansion of high speed rail and growth in air transport also played their part to further increase environmental noise.  'The numbers of people living in so called 'grey areas' has increased. It has been estimated that around 20 percent of the Union's population or close to 80 million people suffer from noise levels that scientists and health experts consider to be unacceptable. Additionally over the past two decades leisure activities and tourism have created new spots and new sources of noise'. 
Thanks to legislation and technological progress significant reductions of noise from individual sources have been achieved. For example the noise from individual cars has been reduced by 85% since 1970 and the noise from lorries by 90%. Likewise for aircraft footprint around an airport made by a modern jet has been reduced by a factor of 9 compared to an aircraft with 1970s technology.
Another key distinction is that of shared responsibility between the Community and Member States. The green paper back in 1996 held that
The local nature of noise problems does not mean that all action is best taken at local level, as sources of noise are not always of local origin.