Select Committee on Environmental Audit First Report

The Helsinki Summit

104. Expectations of the Helsinki Summit vary. The Government stated in its memorandum to the Committee that "... Helsinki should not be seen as the end of the process. In many ways it is just a milestone."[125] English Nature told us that the situation had never been better for promoting sustainable development[126] and the European Union could take a path that would really change what happened on the ground or it could "choose to smother change with rhetoric".[127] Mr Tony Brenton (FCO) told us that he expected Helsinki to inject a whole new political impetus to the integration process.[128]

105. The Commission's mainstreaming report of May 1999 states that "At Helsinki... Heads of State and Government will have an opportunity for an in-depth discussion on the mainstreaming of environmental policy, to make concrete decisions and to chart the way forward towards sustainable development."[129] However, the opportunity for "in-depth discussion" is likely to be very limited. Enlargement and the next Inter-Governmental conference will be competing items on the Helsinki agenda and Mr Meacher told us that there was no doubt that the emphasis of the Summit would be on these issues.[130]

106. It was therefore not clear whether there would be substantive discussion on the question of environmental integration at the Summit although it would certainly be addressed in the conclusions.[131] When asked whether the UK would be pressing for discussion on the matter, Mr Meacher told us that the DETR "were very keen that Heads of Government should get their minds round environmental integration and the whole issue of sustainable development. However, Heads of Government could not be expected to engage in the details of Council reports."[132]

107. Mr Brenton told the Committee that the UK saw the environmental integration dossier as the important part of the likely output of the Council, not least because the UK launched the dossier at the Cardiff Council. He thought that the amount of time that Heads of Government would devote to it was likely to be limited because they tended to devote most time to items on which there was likely to be disagreement amongst them. On the whole, there was a substantial measure of consensus on integration amongst members of the EU. He therefore thought it likely that Heads of Government would go over the draft communications and give their weight to the Council conclusions in adopting them but most of the drafting would have been done at a lower level.[133]

108. Discussions concerning enlargement and environmental integration are not mutually exclusive. Accession countries, like the EU itself, will be unable to meet the environmental acquis by regulation alone. Environmental integration will therefore be an important area that they will need to consider and should be a key part of enlargement discussions. Mr Meacher assured the Committee that the accession states would be required to take on any EU sustainable development strategy early in the transition stage and meet the environmental acquis in full by the end of the transition period.[134] He informed the Committee that although most accession states were less integrated in institutional terms than most European States, some of the Central European States, eg Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary in particular were as advanced as many Western European states in integrating environment into their wider polices.[135]

109. The Committee welcomes the Helsinki Summit as the first opportunity to discuss several key integration issues at Heads of Government level. The Committee acknowledges the pressure on the agenda presented by issues such as enlargement and the Inter-Governmental Conference but believes that the UK Government should press for discussion on integration and not just accept pre-cooked conclusions. We believe that there are important links between the integration process and other parts of the Summit agenda such as enlargement and enabling accession countries to meet the environmental acquis.

110. Progress on integration at the EU level has been a long and slow process, not helped by the change of Commission this year. The pace of progress is unsuprising in view of the complexity of the EU and the fact that even individual nations are struggling to make headway in this area. Dr Andrew Jordan told the Committee that all four of the Member States which were used in his comparative study on environmental integration (Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark and the UK) were having difficulty in implementing EPI and were all generally seen as progressive nations in environmental terms.[136] He told us that it was an "incredibly difficult concept to put into practice".[137]

111. The EU has already proved itself to be an important vehicle in driving the environmental agenda both in Member States and internationally. European EPI clearly presents a major challenge but one which is fundamental to furthering the EU's sustainable development objectives and one which is in tune with the UK Government's stated objectives and domestic commitments. The EU must build on its achievements in the field of environmental regulation towards the development of a more integrated approach to sustainable development at EU and national levels. We would therefore like to see the Helsinki Summit agree a robust framework for EPI which will be regarded as a milestone along the path to sustainability, not an environmental millstone to hinder economic and social progress.

125  Ev p. 43 paragraph 3 Back

126  Q7 Back

127  Q4 Back

128  Q124 Back

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

130  Q122 Back

131  Q118 Back

132  Q119 Back

133  Q122 Back

134  Q152 Back

135  Q151 Back

136  Q89 Back

137  Q89 Back

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Prepared 25 November 1999