Select Committee on Environmental Audit First Report

Monitoring and Reporting

96. Strong monitoring and reporting against agreed indicators is important if EPI is to be realised. However, although there are many EU structures and processes already in place which could be employed, the linkages between them are not sufficiently developed at present. The Commission has stated that a strong commitment from the European Council is needed to carry forward the integration process and to monitor its ongoing success.[116]

97. The Commission itself is overseen by the ministerial councils although Mr Meacher felt this role was not exercised as "systematically as it could be".[117] Mr Tony Brenton (FCO) felt that the body to which the Commission was most politically responsive was the European Parliament and this was the one body that could exercise an effective oversight function on the European Commission.[118] The Parliament has clearly demonstrated this function in its recent dismissal of the previous Commissioners. In addition, in response to a resolution of the European Parliament, the Court of Auditors published a special report on the environment in 1992 which the Government felt had had some beneficial influence in inserting environmental considerations into the allocation of Structural Funds.[119]

98. The Committee received written evidence from Ms Anita Pollack who was a Labour Member of the European Parliament from 1989-99 and served on its Committee for Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection for all that period. She commented that during her time with the Parliament no formal mechanisms were in place for monitoring the progress on implementing Treaty provisions on sustainable development. Neither was there any formal monitoring mechanism in place in Parliamentary procedures for the Cardiff Summit's demand to integrate environment into other EU policy areas.[120]

99. The Committee understands that even without a specific scrutiny mechanism it is still possible for the European Parliament to review issues if it desires. However, without a formal Communication on a regular basis from the Commission on which to comment, the procedures are less straightforward. Alternatively, the Parliament has to rely on opportunities which arise in Committee for summoning and questioning the Environment Commissioner on a range of issues perhaps a couple of times a year.[121]

100. Ms Pollack also commented that the European Parliament's subject-based Committee system is still imperfectly geared to the notion of "joined-up thinking". Each Committee tends to do its own thing, dependent on the legislative texts before it from the Commission and also the budgetary timetable. She felt that strategic debates were rare as was liaison across subject Committees.[122] The Environment Committee has got into a routine of summoning the President of Council in the areas under its responsibility (environment, consumer protection and health) during each Presidency and subjecting the Minister concerned to rigorous questioning. Other Committees have begun to follow this lead, however the decision to do so is a matter for the Committee concerned and its Bureau.[123] Overall, Ms Pollack felt that there was a "democratic deficit" in the EPI process in that the Parliament did not appear to be involved in the process at any stage.[124]

101. From a UK perspective, the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has a specific remit to scrutinise European Union documents and to consider any general issues arising from them. We would draw on the European initiative on policy integration to the attention of that committee.

102. 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.

103. Other institutions and bodies such as the Court of Auditors and the Commission's own auditors should monitor the environmental impact of the spending of Community funds as well as the probity, economy, efficiency and effectiveness of that expenditure.

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

117  Q173 Back

118  Q173 Back

119  Q173 Back

120  Ev p. 62 Back

121  Ibid Back

122  Ibid Back

123  Ibid Back

124  Ev p. 66 Back

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Prepared 25 November 1999