A sixth Environmental Action Programme
66. The Global Assessment will provide the basis
for a decision as to whether to move to a 6th EAP. The Environment
Commissioner, Margot Wallström, has already committed herself
to producing a 6th EAP, under the co-decision procedure. However,
she is in favour of shorter, simpler and more strategic document
than the fifth which would focus on strategic priorities for action
with more detailed targets to follow.
In the draft Global Assessment document available to us, the Commission
proposes a broad strategy which identifies the priority areas
for future policy development and which foresees the subsequent
preparation of detailed action plans, including quantifiable targets
and proposals for their implementation.
67. Mr Meacher was supportive of this kind of approach
with a short, focused document concentrating on strategic priorities.
He told us that a change in form was necessary to take account
of the current plan's weaknesses.
The Government would like to see a programme which pulled policy
together and which was aspirational rather than prescriptive.
This should then be sufficiently flexible to enable any potential
new challenges to be accommodated. However, Mr Meacher was clear
that he would like to see a 6th EAP deal with processes as well
as aspirations to avoid repeating the failure of the 5th EAP to
provide guidance on how aims actually might be delivered.
68. Our witnesses were also keen to have a 6th EAP.
EEB-UK told us that they wanted to see a 6th EAP providing "a
strong environmental component" and contributing to an overall
sustainable development strategy.
They also suggested that a more frequent review mechanism should
be built into the 6th rather than the one-off review that was
included in the 5th.
69. Mr Meacher felt that there were two obvious dominant
cross-cutting issues that should be included in a 6th EAP-climate
change and trade & the environment. He also outlined a number
of other priorities: biotechnology, EU chemicals strategy, fisheries,
decoupling of economic growth and... pollution.
English Nature agreed that trade issues were "fundamental"
and also highlighted fisheries as a key area to be addressed by
a 6th EAP especially as the latter had not been considered in
70. The 6th EAP, will be agreed under the co-decision
process, but it is unclear what status an EU sustainable strategy
would have as it could only draw political authority from the
European Council. However, Mr Tony Brenton suggested that "there
was absolutely no reason" why such a strategy should not
take exactly the same form as an Environmental Action Programme
in the sense that it was a Commission document which the Council
had expressed support and approval of.
However, it was clear that the Government had no established view
on the status of an EU sustainable development strategy.
71. It is unlikely that a sustainable development
strategy, which comprised of more than a statement of general
principles, could be adopted under the same legal procedure, and
thus have the same legal force, as a 6th EAP (Article 175(3)),
since this related to environmental policy only. In addition,
Article 6 of the Amsterdam Treaty appears insufficiently specific
to support such a procedure.
72. Whatever the legal basis, it is clear that the
potential for making a difference may be swamped by a flood of
plans and strategies. The interaction of a new EAP and of sectoral
integration strategies with an overarching sustainable development
strategy needs careful consideration. Mr Meacher told the Committee
that he was supportive of both a sustainable development strategy
and a 6th EAP with a 6th EAP feeding into a comprehensive sustainable
It is possible that Helsinki will call for the simultaneous development
of a sustainable development strategy, 6th EAP, and sectoral integration
73. The Committee welcomes the Government's support
for a Sixth Environmental Action Programme (EAP). The Fifth EAP
was focussed on integration but, although a Commission document,
had little ownership outside DGXI and had little impact on other
sectors. A Sustainable Development Strategy should therefore provide
the overarching direction with a 6th EAP providing the environmental
priorities and the starting point for negotiations on the balance
to be struck in the sustainable development strategy. The Committee
believes that such a plan is crucial if an overarching EU Sustainable
Development Strategy is to have a strong environmental backbone:
we believe that there should be both
an EU sustainable development strategy and a Sixth EAP (focussed
on the environment) with targeted timetables linked by the sectoral
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 EAP, sectoral integration strategies
and an sustainable development strategy would be linked, and which
should provide the principal framework; and
The Government should ask the Commission
to produce a Communication clarifying these relationships.
74. In attempting to integrate the environmental
with economic and social factors, there is a danger that environmental
objectives could be compromised unacceptably. As English Nature
pointed out to the Committee, there are certain trade-offs that
cannot be done as some environmental assets are irreplaceable.
There will therefore always remain an important role for environmental
legislation and the boundary between environmental policy and
integration needs careful thought. The EU has limited competence
in social affairs eg poverty, health, population and participation.
It is therefore necessary to set out the minimum environmental
parameters that the other legs of the sustainable development
tripod (and sectoral Council's strategies) should respect, recognising
that certain environmental assets are irreplaceable. This is particularly
important in relation to climate change, and biodiversity.
75. Decisions at Helsinki on these approaches have
implications not just for the future development of EU policy,
but also Member States' policies. A 6th EAP for example, would
be agreed by co-decision so it would be a legally-binding document
and any EU-wide targets and timetables would require action both
at EU and Member State level. Member States should be required
to develop their own action plans to take forward the various
strands of the overarching EU approach as it emerges.
78 Introductory remarks by Commissioner nominee Margot
Wallström, Parliamentary hearings of the Commissioners- designate,
2 September 1999 [www.europa.eu.int/comm/dg11/speech/speech_parl.htm] Back
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