Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
THURSDAY 21 OCTOBER 1999
20. Could we look, just briefly, at the legislative
framework which exists at the moment and consider whether any
changes are necessary. The key driver, of course, is the Amsterdam
Treaty, and in particular Article 6 contained therein. Do you
think that Article 6 in that Treaty is enough, or do you think
that the forthcoming Inter-Governmental Conference should agree
further Treaty changes, particularly to give ownership, more direct
ownership, to the various DGs and Councils, and have you any thoughts
what those changes might be?
(Ms Collins) I think wider ownership would be useful,
but we have not explicitly considered Treaty changes ourselves.
(Mr Leafe) I think we have got to give them a chance,
before we change the Treaty again, to see if they can make the
current one work, and I think the integration path that was started
at Cardiff is quite a big and quite a complex process for the
Commission to go through, and the quality of the early reports
that have been produced has indicated that the Commission has
got a way to go yet on this. So, I think, before we look at strengthening
Article 6 again we should really give them more time to see if
those things can be made to bite and quality to improve.
21. And looking at the Treaty of Rome, which
covers the various common policies, do you foresee any necessary
(Ms Collins) We did advocate, at the last round of
CAP reform, a specific amendment to Article 39 of the Treaty to
integrate environmental objectives explicitly into the CAP. This
is the problem, there is rhetoric and then there is delivery,
and a stronger acceptance of the importance of environmental delivery,
through agriculture and fisheries policy, might be driven by a
legislative change more quickly than it is being achieved at the
22. Are you hopeful that any changes might be
made in the near future?
(Ms Collins) There is a will to modernise, in the
Commission, is there not; it is a very fertile time for change,
23. One of the difficulties, of course, is,
when you have got a Treaty, when you have got agreements, the
interpretation of agreements across the European Union. Are you
happy that all countries within the Union are equally keen to
drive the environmental agenda forward?
(Ms Collins) No.
24. Which countries do you think are lagging
behind, and which countries do you think are driving the agenda?
(Mr Leafe) It is difficult to be specific on which
are in the lead and which are behind, but I think the point is
that the fact that some countries do lag behind is not helping
progress the integrationist agenda, and DGXI, for an environment
Directorate, spends an awful lot of its time working on enforcement
issues; a lot of that time could perhaps be better spent making
sure that environment was dealt with better in all the sectors
or policies. But we are in a position now where something like
30 per cent of the complaints to the Commission are on environmental
issues, and, of course, they all go through the new Environment
Directorate. So I think there is a need to get all Member States,
as quickly as possible, up to a level playing-field, in terms
of implementation, so that we can start to move off that pure
legislative implementation agenda and more onto an integrationist
25. Do you think the enforcers have the right
legislation to make sure enforcement is positive?
(Mr Leafe) Yes, I think it is pretty tight, particularly
with the ability of the European Courts to now fine Member States
for non-implementation; we do not have many examples of where
they have actually used those powers to a great degree, but certainly
the tool-kits are there in a better way than they have been in
(Ms Collins) I think it is a very interesting development,
that the Commission has said that countries that are not complying
satisfactorily with the Habitats Directive will not receive Structural
Funds; now, that is a very interesting development, especially
in view of the patchy implementation of the Directive across member
26. That includes the UK, at the moment, does
(Ms Collins) The EU moderation meeting had quite a
lot of words to say about the UK list. I think that the key issue
is not that the enforcement of legislation needs to be improved
through the policy process, the Habitats Directive needs to bite
on agricultural policy; and I was dismayed to see that the UK
Government, in one of its discussions, was playing down the need
for ensuring compliance with the Habitats Directive through the
agriculture policy. Special Areas of Conservation are our finest
wildlife sites, and they are being overgrazed, with European money,
they are being drained, some of them are being ploughed up. These
are the lines in the sand that need to be drawn by DGXI and articulated
very clearly, and that is not happening, at the moment.
27. The Councils which have been asked to prepare
strategies, do you think they are the main ones, do you think
that is sufficient?
(Ms Collins) We think the key Councils for early action
are Agriculture, Fisheries, Trade, Taxes and Budgets, Enlargement
and Energy; they are all areas in which the EU has competence.
28. Do you feel there are any particular examples
of bad performance so far with these Councils; probably you do?
Let me put it another way, are there any outstanding ones?
(Mr Leafe) The short answer to that is no.
(Ms Collins) Not yet.
(Mr Leafe) Not yet; they all have some way to go.
The Agriculture, the first one that was presented to the Cologne
Summit, was passed buck to the Commission and asked to be strengthened,
and which is coming along, in the draft that we have seen that
is being presented to Helsinki. The transport strategy, for instance,
is quite good on a number of integration issues, but important
things, like the impact of transport infrastructure proposals
on the environment, the need for a strategic environmental assessment
of transport policies, are not contained within the strategy.
So, to our mind, there are certain key, chunky pieces of policy
that could really make the integration process go further that
are not included in many of the strategies.
(Ms Collins) As Richard said, the agriculture strategy
has improved, but the decisions made on Agenda 2000 actually undermine
the quality of that strategy for the environment, through the
decisions that were made; and the latest paper from Finland is
full of warm words but there is little concrete action promised
that would stop environmental degradation and ensure a shift into
29. I think you have partly answered my next
question; do you think the sectoral approach is the right one,
or I think you said really you think an overarching committee
or some form of watchdog would be better?
(Ms Collins) We think you need both, we think you
need an overarching strategy at a high level that addresses the
big issues, it addresses the principles, it identifies the priority
sectors and it has mechanisms for monitoring and reporting and
adjusting policy in the light of those monitoring reports and
not ducking the difficult issues. It also needs cross-cutting
things to happen, in environmental taxes, for instance, and so
we would advocate an overarching strategy plus sectoral action
plans, and an environmental strand to both the overarching strategy
and the sectoral strands.
(Mr Leafe) Do not get the impression that we do not
think sectors is the way forward, we do, very strongly, and it
is the same sort of way we practise the philosophy of nature conservation
in English Nature; but it is important that these sectoral strategies
really are accompanied by sound goals, targets to be achieved
over a certain time period and milestones to measure progress
along the way to getting there.
(Ms Collins) You have got to diagnose the problems,
and you need to do this analysis at a sectoral level, for instance,
what are the drivers of farmer decisions, is a crucial question
in the agricultural sector; for changing those decisions and getting
change, we need to understand sectoral processes. But that is
not a substitute for political commitment at a high level and
leadership. Because this is a very difficult political process,
we are talking about changing people's lifestyles, we are talking
about changing the enterprises and businesses, we are changing
culture, and that culture change strategy needs to be led from
30. In terms of priorities, what is it most
sensible to do, for the Commission to concentrate on those areas
where it has considerable power, like agriculture, which you mentioned,
or try to improve performance in areas like transport, which are
very important but where it does not have such immediate strength?
(Ms Collins) That is a political judgement, is it
not. I would say, you begin with the things you can change before
you start telling everybody else how to behave.
31. Standing back a little bit and looking at
the whole environment scene over the last five years, what would
be your verdict on the Fifth Environmental Action Programme? To
be frank, we got a very, very pessimistic reading of it when we
were in Brussels, talking to Commissioner Kinnock, who had been
involved because of transport, and, talking to DGXI, they were
basically saying "We failed."
(Ms Collins) I think life would have been worse without
it. This is always the trouble with threat deflection, you cannot
prove that the threats would not have been even worse. I do not
think it has achieved enough and that is because the political
will, the clout, the money and the legislation has not been behind
32. Has it achieved anything?
(Ms Collins) Yes, I think it has. It has led to the
Global Assessment, and anything which
33. But the Global Assessment is just another
(Ms Collins) If you choose to treat it that way; if
you choose to actually listen to what it says, and biodiversity
is one of the areas where it says things are still going in a
wholly unsustainable direction, then it is a call to action. And
you need to make these massive changes on the basis of sound analysis
and facts, and so on; it is not just nice to do, this is very
important, and it has cost consequences. So you have to have good
information. So I think the discipline of the Fifth Environmental
Action Programme has led indirectly, probably, to the Amsterdam
Treaty, and so on. It is a bit subtle; if we had not had it, it
would have been worse.
(Mr Leafe) I was just going to make that point, that
we are not amazing supporters of what the Fifth Action Programme
has delivered, and we share your scepticism, but, nonetheless,
as you said, the Amsterdam Treaty, the Treaty has been reformed
to include sustainable development at its core; and if you took
that as a success criterion alone then it has achieved something,
(Ms Collins) I think, if you look at a sector that
was not in the Fifth Environmental Action Programme, which is
fisheries, which I think should be in the Sixth Environmental
Action Programme, and you say how has DGXIV behaved over the last
five years, has it had a forward studies unit looking at the links
between fisheries and nature conservation; no, it has not. Do
we have an automatic in to DGXIV, do they listen to us on the
environment; no, they do not. They say that nature conservation
is already part of the Common Fisheries Policyin the communication
from the Commission on Fisheries it says: "The requirements
to integrate environmental concerns and to manage the exploitation
of marine living resources in a sustainable manner are already
included in the Common Fisheries Policy". The 2002 reform
scope does not explicitly include achievement of environmental
objectives; and that is what I see as empty rhetoric. They do
start, in the Annex to the Communication, to address the problem,
but if they had been thinking about this five years ago, because
it was a sector in the Fifth Environmental Action Programme, we
might be further forward, and fisheries is one of the most unsustainable
EU policies, from an environmental perspective.
34. Transport was in the Fifth Environmental
(Ms Collins) Yes.
35. That is right; but that has been a very
poor area, from the point of view of progress, from an environmental
point of view?
(Ms Collins) At national level, we have, at last,
got a more integrated approach and we are talking about economic
instruments, and so on. I think that is all part of the debate.
But, yes, it has got a very long way to go, as Richard has already
commented on, in relation to the documents on transport. But,
actually, the thing that the EU can promote is trans-European
networks; well, frankly, they are a threat to the environment.
36. Exactly, yes.
(Ms Collins) So, in a sense, from the perspective
of their EU competency, they need to stand back from their enthusiasm
for trans-European networks and say the sustainability approach
is about increasing access to services with the minimum amount
of miles travelled, not encouraging long distance travel right
across the community.
37. Yes; but then you are talking about immediately
coming up against the problem can the Transport Directorate get
into land use planning, which is what you were talking about?
(Ms Collins) There is the European Spacial Development
Perspective, of course, which is a framework, because this has
addressed some of these knotty issues where the Commission does
not have competence. So that perspective has no bite, it has got
no legal basis, it comes from outside the Commission, but it has
examined some of this territory, and that is quite an interesting
document to look at, in relation to what can be done.
38. You said that you wanted to see a Sixth
Plan, following the Fifth Plan; would you envisage the Sixth Plan
would be in a similar form to the Sixth Plan, or should it be
(Ms Collins) I think it should be updated, I think
it should be sharper and I think it should cover those six sectors
that I said, are very important. Trade issues are fundamental,
we have got the Seattle round, at the moment, and there are three
issues there that sustainable development should be made an explicit
goal of trade policy in the new round.
39. And certainly fisheries should be, from
what you say?
(Ms Collins) Yes; and enlargement is a very important
issue. Some of the accession processes are going to damage the
Eastern and Central European environments very significantly.