Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
THURSDAY 21 OCTOBER 1999
40. How do you see the linkage between a Sixth
Environmental Action Plan and a European Union sustainable development
(Ms Collins) I think it has to be nested, we have
to have some coherence here so that the overarching strategy then
refers directly to the sectoral strategies, but sets some frameworks
for what they should contain and looks at the reports on them
with a proper scrutiny, as a parliamentary committee might.
41. Obviously, as English Nature, you have access
to the European Environmental Advisory Councils.
(Ms Collins) Yes; we are a European Environmental
Advisory Council and we have been instrumental in getting our
opposite numbers in other Member States to work together, over
the last five years, in a more coherent way, and offer joint advice
to, say, DGVI or DGXI on certain issues.
42. Has it had any effect?
(Ms Collins) It is interesting that the Commission
tends to look to Member States, on the one hand, and it tends
to look to NGOs, on the other, and statutory bodies full of expertise,
like our own, are not well positioned in that process. The Commission
feels uncomfortable; they suspect we might be on the side of a
Member State, and therefore should not
43. They think you will have an English agenda,
(Ms Collins) Yes; and, therefore, I think that the
working together of the European Environmental Councils, who have
scientific and policy advisory responsibilities and expertise,
is an important adjunct to the process. As I say, it is not easy.
It is one of the institutional reforms that we would like to see
that they would come to us, and we would like to be invited to
give evidence to the European Parliament, for instance.
44. You are not, at the moment?
(Ms Collins) We have not ever given evidence to the
European Parliament, no.
(Mr Leafe) You asked if it has had any influence.
I think we would like to say that it had some influence on the
output of the Global Assessment, but you would have to ask others
as to whether or not that was actually the case. But, certainly,
some of the key things that we recommended, including the inclusion
of fisheries in the Sixth Action Plan, have been produced as the
draft Conclusions of the Global Assessment, so we hope we are
getting somewhere there.
(Ms Collins) And, obviously, we had meetings with
Commissioners Fischler and Bjerregaard at stages through the Agenda
2000 discussions, as a collection of European Environmental Advisory
Councils, promoting many of the things that we have discussed,
and those things got into the Programme, but not enough money
was forthcoming for agri-environmental programmes.
(Mr Leafe) And the co-decision procedure in the Parliament
is going to mean that the Environment Committee, in particular,
is going to need access to expert advice to help them with the
many technical aspects that crop up there, and we think the advisory
council collaboration could be one source of independent expert
advice that they could call on.
(Ms Collins) And, in expert committees, they could
call on us more than they do.
45. I would like to focus on Commission procedures.
We know the Commission has already committed itself to a number
of measures intended to ensure a better integration of environmental
considerations into its policy-making and management, but in your
opinion has the Commission made any effective progress in the
areas it has identified, and I will take just three, if I can,
as examples, bearing in mind the time. They decided they would
undertake the screening of all policy and a full environmental
appraisal, where appropriate. Secondly, to `green star' legislative
proposals where a detailed assessment of environmental consequences
is required; and to look at the environmental effects of European
Union funding. Have they made any effective progress in those
(Ms Collins) I think screening and appraisal is underresourced,
and DGXI is not able to carry out an effective process. In the
UK, the DETR has issued a document on policy appraisal, and that
is quite a good framework for doing it.
46. Underresourced by what sort of factor, a
half, a quarter; roughly?
(Ms Collins) It needs significant reinforcement, yes.
The green star system, I think, is inadequate, because that is
all it is, a star, and it does not actually analyse and think
through what needs to be done. Green funding: I do think the balance
of power needs to change by a new resource allocation process
within the European Union; if you give all the agri-environment
resources to DGVI then maybe that will not ever really deliver
the environmental goods. If the driving force is to improve the
European environment through agriculture subsidies then maybe
that budget should be held by the Environment Directorate; while
it is small, underfunded and lacks political clout then progress
will be slow. So those are pretty big issues for the Commission
to address; there are pretty big, vested interests to be changed.
And we would say that all the things that they are trying to do
are steps in the right direction; they need to go deeper and further.
(Mr Leafe) They have made some progress on the Structural
Fund issue that you raised, too, in that the new round of Structural
Fund programmes does contain some quite explicit advice about
how you should go about integrating the environment into that,
and the Commission have produced quite a lot of technical guidance
to help Member States, and the partnerships that are set up to
spend the money to ensure that happens. What they need to make
sure they take care of is the monitoring of that process, and
as single programming documents, the documents that govern where
the spend will go in regions, come back to the Commission for
approval, they need to be checking that that guidance has been
taken account of in what comes from Member States, and that is
an important thing to watch.
47. Surely, further than that, I know it was
raised earlier by my colleague, but beyond the SPD the actual
compliance would; because nothing undermines confidence in the
European Union more than people just feeling that. By and large,
I think it is accepted that we are fairly rigorous at compliance
in this country; my experience of dealing with our Ministries
and an SPD is that they are down to the letter; and there is this
ongoing feeling, and you mentioned fisheries. I represent a fishing
community, and they would be hostile to the sorts of suggestions
you are making, not in themselves but they would have no belief
that they would be enforced and complied with across the European
Union. So is there anything more you wish to say about the necessity
for compliance, because my belief is unless they comply the whole
thing becomes a waste of time and then eventually interest in
the whole thing wanes?
(Ms Collins) Maybe what we need is a `red star' system,
to rule out things that actually damage the environment; there
needs to be a judgement "This is damaging and it is not consistent
with sustainable development, it breaches environmental limits,"
therefore it gets a red star and it does not get funding.
(Mr Leafe) In the case of Structural Funds, the SPD,
in a Member State like the UK, is all-important, really, because
once it is there and it is in place it is implemented to the nth
degree, and if it does not contain the environment or, more importantly,
if it contains measures which are going to damage the environment,
one way or the other, then they get implemented, and therein lies
the problem. So we have to make sure that they are right from
the start, what they take on board, and, ideally, specifically,
have environmental measures for environmental projects, as well
as ensuring that there is decent assessment of the other programmes
to make sure that they do not cause any harm.
(Ms Collins) Infrastructure development has been seriously
environmentally damaging in some Member States.
48. Can I raise just one more question, because
I am aware of the time. I think events of June told us that there
is not a lot of interest from our public at the moment in the
European Union, and yet it was not that long ago that the public
were very positive about the capacity of the European Union to
make environmental progress, and I think about two European elections
ago that was reflected in the way people voted. What do you think
can be done by the European Union, or by the UK Government, to
make the public more aware, the UK public, of the importance and
capacity of the European Union to make environmental progress,
because it just strikes me, if the public are really up about
it then that pressure comes back on the Member States and we are
more likely to achieve something, rather than going round in circles?
But how can we rekindle what we had in this country several years
ago, a great belief and a great interest in what the European
Union can do with environment?
(Ms Collins) You are absolutely right to point to
the public interest in all this. We believe the public does care
about environmental policy, both for now and for our children
and grandchildren. I think, in looking at what needs to change
in the environmental scene at the European level, we must also
remember that achievements have been made, and the Habitats Directive
and the implementation of European Marine Sites, in the UK, will
be a very important development, the extra protection given to
Birds Directive sites, and so on. The Framework Directive on Water
is an acknowledgement of the importance of water quality and catchment
management; air quality has improved. There have been positive
developments that we have; the front of The Times today has got
the 1952 smog on it. The air quality issues still need to be addressed,
but they are not of the same order of magnitude as they used to
be. So one needs to get a holistic picture across Europe of the
fact that environmental improvements have been made, but the economic
sectors are so powerful that it is still not enough, and global
warming needs to be addressed, and so on. So I think we need not
present not too gloomy a picture to the public, which can be done,
and maybe the weight of the evidence that we have given has been
on what needs to change. But I would not like people to go away
with the impression that we do not value a lot of the achievements
that have been achieved through European Union legislation, which
I think has been progressive, it has persuaded Member States to
be challenging some of their sacred cows, and so on. And so I
think that we could rekindle that, but we also need to make very
plain the results of carrying on as we are, to rekindle political
(Mr Leafe) I think a few more campaigns
would not go amiss. Part of the reason why people were so turned
on about this a few years back was because of the label that Britain
had of being the dirty man of Europe. Now that situation has cleared
up considerably, but there are other pressures still; the agricultural
policy in particular, as Sue mentioned, is causing problems with
upland areas, farmland birds, these kinds of things. Now, if we
can start some kind of a campaign running on those issues in this
country and in other European countries as well that catches the
public imagination, we might be able to get back to that position
we were in a few years ago.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
It was a very helpful session, and we are grateful for your attendance.