Select Committee on Environmental Audit First Report


FIRST REPORT


The Environmental Audit Committee has agreed to the following Report:—

EUROPE AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

AN AGENDA FOR THE HELSINKI SUMMIT

Summary

1. The Committee's principal findings are summarised below:

    (a)  The European Environment Agency's recent State & Outlook report confirms that despite more than twenty-five years of Community environmental regulation, general environmental quality in the EU is not recovering significantly and in some areas is actually worsening. (Paragraph 11)

    (b)  EU policies in major economic sectors such as agriculture, transport and energy have often been incompatible with the EU's environmental objectives. For example, EU subsidies have supported environmentally damaging activities such as the drainage of wildlife-rich wetlands for intensive agriculture or the depletion of fish stocks. (Paragraph 13)

    (c)  Although the EU has been good at developing strong, end-of-pipe regulation it has less leverage over the "driving force sectors of environmental damage." The emphasis now needs to shift towards creating a more integrated framework for a preventative approach to environmental protection. We conclude that the European Council, Council of Ministers, Commission and individual Member States need to co-ordinate their policies and working practices under strong leadership and strategic direction to achieve real change. (Paragraph 14)

    (d)  President Prodi has announced the formation of two sub-groups of Commissioners, one to look at growth, competitiveness, employment and sustainable development and a second to look at external affairs. Environment Commissioner Wallström will be involved in both groups which may be a helpful boost to integration. We believe that environmental integration and mechanisms to promote sustainable development across all directorates- general should be prominent in their remits. (Paragraph 33)

    (e)  It is clear that both individual Commission directorates-general and Councils tend to be very focused on their own subject areas. Mr Meacher told the Committee that he thought that getting the directorates-general to talk to each other in the preparation of policy was the single most important area of improvement. (Paragraph 35)

    (f)  At Cardiff, Heads of Government endorsed the principle that major Commission policy proposals should be accompanied by an appraisal of their environmental impact. A Commission review of the existing system showed it needed revision because it was weak as a result of its narrow scope and there were difficulties in attributing "green stars" because limited information was available on the environmental impact of proposals. (Paragraph 38)

    (g)  The Global Assessment of the Fifth Environmental Action Programme acknowledges that the EU has made progress in environmental legislation but has achieved only modest success in integrating the environment into other policy areas. It is far from achieving its broader objective of sustainable development as reflected in the Amsterdam Treaty. (Paragraph 63)

2. The Committee's principal recommendations are summarised below:

    (a)  As we have concluded from our studies of the UK greening government initiative, high level political leadership is vital to the success of this pan-administrative challenge. Leadership in the EU context is more complex and must be pursued through effective Treaty provisions, the European Council, the Council of Ministers (in all its formations), and individual Member States as well as the Commission. (Paragraph 24)

    (b)  We consider Article 6 of the Amsterdam Treaty to be a major step forward in promoting environmental policy integration. However, the Committee is concerned that this article alone may not adequately promote environmental integration and will need to be complemented by specific provisions included in the legislative basis of individual policies. The Committee recommends that the Government keeps the need for further Treaty revision along these lines under review in the light of an assessment, in due course, of the impact of Article 6. (Paragraph 27)

    (c)  The Committee recognises that it is for the Commission to propose a "substantial and effective" system for conducting and demonstrating environmental policy appraisals. However, we think that it is within the ambit of the Council, and therefore the initiative of Member States, to galvanise the Commission's efforts by establishing its own approach to "checks and balances" for policies that need environmental appraisal but where the work has not been done. (Paragraph 39)

    (d)  The Committee believes that any EU sustainable development strategy should be more than a general statement of principles. The Committee considers it important that the Government pushes for a strategy for action rather than guidance, containing quantitative targets, timetables and headline indicators against which progress can be monitored. (Paragraph 49)

    (e)  The Government should suggest that the Commissioner Group on Growth, Competitiveness, Employment and Sustainable Development prepares a draft strategy, serviced by a new Sustainable Development Task Force, attached to the President's office. The six-monthly European Councils should keep the strategy under regular review. Council Summits must take action when such reviews demand- passing the 'green baton' must not descend into passing the green buck. (Paragraph 54)

    (f)  We believe that there should be both an EU sustainable development strategy and a Sixth Environmental Action Programme (focussed on the environment) with targeted timetables linked by the sectoral integration strategies. (Paragraph 82)

    (g)  We have identified a contradiction in the evidence presented by the Government on the key relationship between the Environment Council and the other Councils and their development of sectoral strategies to integrate environmental considerations. The Government agreed that the Environment Council has a role to play but was equally clear that Council formations are autonomous and tend to "get very focused on their own subject matter". There is no current mechanism for involving the Environment Council if improved co-ordination is felt to be necessary with other Councils. The Committee requests that the Government clarifies what role it feels the Environment Council could play. (Paragraph 82)

    (h)  The Committee is concerned that the sectoral integration strategies produced to-date have been bland statements of intent suggesting little action or timetables for action. The Government should work to ensure that the Helsinki conclusions respect the framework agreed at the Cardiff Council in 1998 and refer to the need for the councils to set themselves targets, timetables and indicators. (Paragraph 92)

    (i)  We think that it is important that the sectoral integration strategies share a common format so that they can be compared and contrasted. The Committee is pleased that the Government has actively supported the Finnish framework which encourages such an approach. We will be using the Finnish criteria to assess the quality of the strategies. (Paragraph 93)

    (j)  It is essential that the Government pushes for high level agreement about how the range of EU integration initiatives fit together and can be managed and led. To avoid confusion, there needs to be clarity regarding how a Sixth Environmental Action Programme (6th EAP), sectoral integration strategies and an EU sustainable development strategy would be linked, and which should provide the principal framework. The Government should ask the Commission to produce a Communication clarifying these relationships. (Paragraph 73)

    (k)  The Committee recommends that Member States should report their progress on making a contribution to an EU sustainable development strategy against a set of European indicators to the European Environment Agency (EEA). The Committee would then like to see the EEA present a consolidated report on the progress of the EU as a whole for regular assessment and review by national and European parliaments and the European Council. (Paragraph 102)


 
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