Select Committee on Environmental Audit First Report

Commission support

31. We are encouraged by the commitment to integration expressed by both the President of the European Commission and the Environment Commissioner. It will be important that this commitment is taken forward through the work of the Commission on cross-cutting issues both inside the EU and in its external relations.

32. Disappointingly, the new President of the European Commission, Mr Romano Prodi, did not make reference to the environment or sustainable development in his inaugural speech to the European Parliament in September 1999. However, in a speech to the European Parliament in May 1999, he acknowledged that the EU needed to "give substance to the sustainable development option".[23] He cited environmental integration as one of the objectives that needed to be pursued with special vigour in this regard especially in relation to agricultural policy, incentives for industrial innovation and infrastructure programmes.[24] In addition, Margot Wallström, the new Environment Commissioner included Integration, along with Implementation and Information, as one of her three "Is" for achieving the environmental programme which she presented to the European Parliament.[25]

33. President Prodi has also 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. President Prodi will chair the first group, Chris Patten the second. These groups have the potential to produce mechanisms for influencing the environmental integration process but it is not clear at this stage how often these groups will meet, how long they will be established or what their terms of reference will be. The Committee particularly welcomes the establishment of these initiatives on cross-cutting issues and believes that environmental integration and mechanisms to promote sustainable development across all Directorates General should be prominent in their remits.

34. There are other, more general, Commission reforms which could be potential vehicles for promoting integration. President Prodi has already said that there will be a fundamental review of the way in which the Commission works in order that it becomes more efficient and effective. Vice-President Neil Kinnock is looking at this issue and is due to report in February. This will mean operational changes and Mr Meacher told us that Mr Prodi has already proposed that the Energy and Transport portfolio should be brought together under a single commissioner and that the directorates be merged.[26]

35. It is clear that both individual directorates and Councils tend to be very focused on their own subject areas. Mr Meacher told the Committee that he thought that getting the directorates to talk to each other in the preparation of policy was the single most important area of improvement.[27] He did not think that it was structural change that was required but changes in working practices and organisational procedures.[28]

36. The Committee has heard that EU processes and institutions do not naturally favour cross-cutting issues. [29] Policy making throughout the EU tends to be sectoral and vertical[30] rather than horizontal. It is important therefore that the process of integration also involves the Commission developing systems to produce more integrated policy proposals for the Council and Parliament to consider. The Commission has already committed itself to a number of measures intended to ensure a better integration of environmental considerations into its policy making and management. These include:

—  screening of all policy and full environmental appraisal where appropriate;

—  legislative proposals in the Commission's work programme to be attributed a "Green Star" to indicate where a detailed assessment of environmental consequences is required;

—  appointment of senior officials responsible for environmental integration in each directorate-general (environmental correspondents);

—  analysis of the environmental effects of European Union funding;

—  greening of the budget; and

—  the development of staff training programmes on environmental appraisal and integration.[31]

37. We heard from both the Department and witnesses that these were steps in the right direction but had not gone far enough.[32] The need for the effective use of environmental appraisals was highlighted as a key area where the Commission should concentrate its efforts.

38. 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 that 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. The Commission is now considering replacing this system.[33] Ms Sue Collins (English Nature) suggested to us that perhaps what the Commission needed was a 'red star' instead of a 'green star' system to rule out and deny funding to policy proposals which were judged to be inconsistent with sustainable development.[34]

39. We took this idea further and asked the Government whether perhaps the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers could support the Commission's efforts to introduce effective environmental appraisals of policy by declining to discuss proposals that had not been screened for environmental implications and, where appropriate, fully appraised. Mr Brenton (FCO) responded that " The Commission is... very conscious of the pressure that they are under because of the failure of the Green Star system..." He went on to say "...We would hope that they will come up with a more substantial and effective system... and the sorts of checks and balances which you are suggesting may form part of it for all we know."[35] 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.

40. The UK Government has produced its own appraisal guidance for government departments "Policy appraisal and the Environment"[36] and therefore the UK is in a position to understand the challenge inherent in promoting the use of such guidance across departments for whom the environment is not core business. The Committee has considered environmental appraisal in both its reports on the UK Greening Government Initiative and has found that it is still at a very early stage of implementation in most departments' procedures and practices.[37] The Committee's latest report on the initiative commented that, outside the DETR and some enthusiasts in other departments there was not an "overwhelming groundswell of opinion in favour of the environment being included... in policy making right at the forefront of decision making."[38]

41. A number of witnesses also highlighted the importance of the Commission's moves to improve the training of staff on environmental appraisal and integration. Dr Jefferiss (RSPB) thought that there was very little in the way of "environmental expertise" within the Directorate Generals and Council and Committee support staffs.[39] Mr Richard Leafe (English Nature) told the Committee that he understood that Mr Kinnock's reform proposals would include measures to ensure that the Commission was recruiting the brightest and the best.[40] Secondments from the private sector and non-governmental organisations should be considered in addition to those from Member States' government departments.

42. The Committee welcomes the Commission's attempts to reform its policy making and management in order to promote EPI. The Committee has welcomed the Government's own efforts to provide guidance on policy appraisal and the environment and there may be lessons from that process that could assist the Commission.

23  Speech by Mr Prodi, Strasbourg, 4 May 1999,

[] Back

24  Ibid Back

25  Introductory remarks by Commissioner nominee Margot Wallström, Parliamentary hearings of the Commissioners- designate, 2 September 1999 [] Back

26  Q141 Back

27  Q128 Back

28  Q141 Back

29  Ev pp. 62-3, 66 & 31-32 Back

30  Ev pp. 17-18 Back

31  Commission press release, IP/97/636, The Commission reviews its commitment to integrate the environment in its policy-making, 11 July 1997 Back

32  QQ 46, 77 & 172 Back

33  The Cologne Report on Environmental Integration: Mainstreaming of environmental policy, Commission working paper addressed to the European Council, SEC (1999) 777 final, paragraph 2, p. 3, 26 May 1999 Back

34  Q47 Back

35  Q174 Back

36  Policy appraisal and the environment, DETR, March 1998 Back

37  HC 426-1, Session 1998-99 The Sixth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, The Greening Government Initiative 1999, paragraph 59, p. xxv Back

38  Ibid Back

39  Q68 Back

40   Q15 Back

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Prepared 25 November 1999