Select Committee on Environmental Audit First Report

Sectoral Integration Strategies

76. The EU's approach to EPI now centres around the production of sectoral integration strategies by Council formations. Nine out of the twenty-two Councils have now been specifically asked to prepare strategies in successive waves.

77. The Cardiff European Council (June 1998) invited the Agriculture, Transport and Energy Councils to start the process and to provide initial reports to the Vienna Council (December 1998). These sectoral strategies are intended to give effect to environmental integration and sustainable development within their respective policy areas. The Cardiff Conclusions also state that "they should monitor progress taking account of the Commission's suggested guidelines and identifying indicators".[89] The Vienna Council invited the first wave (Agriculture, Transport and Energy) to prepare comprehensive strategies for Helsinki and also invited Development, Internal Market and Industry Councils to join the process. The Cologne Council (June 1999) added ECOFIN, General Affairs and Fisheries.

78. The DETR and other departments have sought to influence the sectoral strategies through liaison with each other and the Commission and successive presidencies.[90] The UK's greening government committees[91] are also able to offer their views and are "likely to be involved in any initiatives which result from Helsinki."[92] The Committee welcomes the Government's co-ordination of UK input into the development of the EU Council strategies and notes the DETR's efforts to liaise with leading departments.

79. The sectoral approach is clearly helping to break down barriers between the autonomous Councils and subjecting them to the scrutiny of outside interests such as other Councils and Directorates General outside their normal subject areas. The Committee heard from Mr Meacher that the sectoral approach is encouraging talks between councils and between officials to a greater degree than before.[93] Mr Brenton told us that the sectoral strategy process was "a major departure from the way that the Commission traditionally operated".[94]

80. Mr Meacher thought that it would be possible to get joint working between officials at a lower level to a much greater degree than exists at the present time. He felt that the joint Environment and Transport Council which took place under the UK Presidency in April 1998 had worked well but that it was quite unwieldy to have thirty Ministers at the same time with officials. He did not therefore feel that it was a general model to follow.[95] He gave examples of useful "guest appearances" which had been taking place. The Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Franz Fischler, had attended the Environment Council on their request to talk about the environmental aspects of environmental integration into agricultural matters. Mr Meacher himself had attended the Energy Council when he was President of the Environment Council and took part in a debate on environmental considerations in energy policy. Mr Meacher felt that this could be done a lot more and he would be in favour of doing so.[96]

81. The Committee commends the Government for initiating a joint Council meeting but recognises its limitations as described by the Environment Minister. We recommend that the Government continues to promote innovative methods of joint-working between Councils on cross-cutting issues such as EPI and sustainable development.

82. 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[97] but was equally clear that Council formations are autonomous and tend to "get very focused on their own subject matter". [98] 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.

Content and Quality

83. In a report on environmental integration prepared for the Cardiff Summit,[99] the Commission highlighted Agenda 2000 and climate change as urgent areas for integration. It also stated that subjects such as: the single market and industry, development and trade policies, tourism, fisheries and taxation were examples which should be given early attention.[100]

84. We are currently also inquiring into the prospects for a sustainable Millennium Round of trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).[101] The EU is in the lead on negotiations at the WTO and its position reflects elements of co-ordinated thinking on economic, environmental and development issues. This approach and its delivery through negotiations in Geneva over at least the next three years would be assisted by the agreement of clear principles by the relevant Council, the General Affairs Council, on the relationship and balance between economic, environmental, social and development objectives in EU external trade policy. The WTO Seattle Summit, which will set the agenda, is due to start at the end of November 1999 and therefore work on articulating the EU approach in a sectoral integration strategy appears to be overdue.

85. Our witnesses agreed that finance and fisheries were key areas where sectoral strategies were needed. English Nature advocated concentrating on the key areas of EU competence ie agriculture, fisheries, trade, taxes and budget, enlargement and energy to avoid duplicating too many areas where Member States tended to have key national responsibilities and the EU was less influential in driving policy.[102]

86. The Committee believes that the sectoral strategies invited to-date reflect the priority areas for integration.

87. The sectoral integration strategies invited to-date are in various stages of preparation. The transport, agriculture, development, internal market and industry strategies were agreed at recent Council meetings,[103] and the Energy Council is due to agree its strategy at its next meeting on 2 December 1999.

88. The strategies vary greatly in quality and content. They acknowledge many necessary changes in policy and procedure but do not promise action within specified timescales. In effect the strategies are too bland, a description with which Mr Meacher agreed.[104] Witnesses commented on various drafts of the strategies which they had seen but Dr Paul Jefferiss (RSPB) told us that there was a relative lack of transparency in the process. He thought that the public and NGOs should have more access to the documents and ideally some opportunity for input.[105] (Some of the strategies which have been agreed are now available on the internet but earlier drafts were not.)[106] The Committee did not discuss the content of the strategies in detail in this inquiry but we will be looking to assessing them after Helsinki and auditing their future progress.

89. Mr Meacher told us that at this stage he thought the transport strategy[107] (as agreed) was probably the best and largely met the DETR's requirements in terms of setting out specific targets for integration and timescales. He felt that the draft energy paper was not quite so precise or detailed and the weakest and "least satisfactory"[108] was the draft agriculture document. He also felt that there had been good progress on the Development Council report.[109] Other witnesses tended to agree with this analysis based on the drafts which they had seen to date. Dr Jefferiss (RSPB) commented that the agriculture strategy very much stressed the economic and social role of agriculture but said relatively little on its environmental role.[110]

90. The RSPB outlined a number of shortcomings to us which it felt were generic to work on all the strategies which had been done so far:[111]

—    a lack of consistency of approach between the different sectors made comparison difficult;

—    there were few targets and commitments and generally no timetable built in for revising the strategies or ratcheting up the stringency of the requirements that they contained;

—     the documents were cautious and conservative, containing no long-distance future, or radical thinking;

—    there was a tendency to celebrate existing achievements without noting whether those achievements were sufficient; and

—    there was no reference to the degree of funding necessary to carry out the sustainable development strategies which were proposed.

91. In advance of their Presidency, the Finns recognised some of these weaknesses and proposed a framework at the Weimar Informal Environment Council in May 1999 to guide each Council in drawing up their strategies.[112] This guide seeks to clarify the action required by nominated Councils before Helsinki. The UK Government has been supportive of this approach.

92. 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.

93. 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.

94. The Cardiff Conclusions suggest that in the long term all Councils should prepare integration strategies. The Government takes the view that in the medium to short term it is important that good quality strategies are produced by the first nine and that their work is fully co-ordinated with the developing concept of an overarching sustainable development strategy.[113] It also wants to see Council strategies concentrate on priority issues, rather than trying to cover all possible matters.[114] The Cologne Summit agreed that "climate policy is the most important example of the Councils' commitment... to incorporate the requirements of the environment and sustainable development into other Community polices".[115]

95. The Committee believes that the Government should press for all Councils to prepare integration strategies in the long term to ensure that all areas of EU policy address the issue. In the short to medium term the Committee supports the Government view that there is a need to develop robust strategies in priority cross-cutting areas. The Committee accepts that it would be unwieldy for the other 14 Councils to work simultaneously on new strategies and endorses the staggered approach which has been adopted so far.

89  Ev p. 48 Annex B Back

90  Ev p. 46 paragraph 25 Back

91  Cabinet Ministerial Committee on the Environment (ENV) and The Green Ministers Committee Back

92  Ev p .44 paragraph 12 Back

93  Q130 Back

94  Q125 Back

95  Q129 Back

96  Q130 Back

97   Ev p. 46 paragraph 27 Back

98  Q125 Back

99  Partnership for integration: A strategy for integrating environment into EU policies, COM (1998) 333 final, 27 May 1998 Back

100  Ibid p. 10 Back

101  See the Second Report from the Committee, A sustainable Millennium Round at the WTO: towards the Seattle Summit, HC45-I, Session 1999-2000 Back

102  Q14 Back

103   Transport Council (6 October 1999), Agriculture Council (15-16 November 1999), Development Council (11 November 1999), Internal Market (28 October 1999), Industry Council (9 November 1999) Back

104  Q167 Back

105  Q69 Back

106 Back

107  Transport and Environment: Council strategy on the environment and sustainable development into the transport policy submitted by the "Transport Council" to the European Council of Helsinki", 11 October 1999.  Back

108  Q166 Back

109  Q123 Back

110  Q69 Back

111  Q69 Back

112   See Ev p. 50 Annex J Back

113   Ev p. 46 paragraph 27 Back

114   Ev p. 46 paragraph 31 Back

115  Ev p. 49 Annex D Back

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Prepared 25 November 1999