Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Dr Iddon

  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 changes there?
  (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 moment.

  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, I think.

  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 one.

  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 the past.
  (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 states.


  26. That includes the UK, at the moment, does it?
  (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.

Mr Robertson

  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 environmental support.

  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 the top.


  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 it.

  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 report?
  (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, at least.
  (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 Policy—in 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 Action Programme?
  (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 different?
  (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.

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