Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 85)



  80. And my final question; we know that the public are interested in the environment but how can we re-awaken their interest in the European Union as the prime vehicle for making progress on environmental matters that really count?
  (Ms Willis) I think that both environment and sustainable development can really contribute to making the EU more popular, for two reasons. Firstly, because the EU does have a good record on creation, if not necessarily implementation, of environmental policy, and it is a well-respected field. Secondly, because, as is often said, environmental policy requires action at more than a national level; the EU did very well at Kyoto, for example. And, also, it is a popular issue, and I think there is a real chance now for the European Union to really take sustainable development as a way of involving the public, of really driving home the message of what European integration is for. So I think that we should offer it to them as a great way of repopularising the EU.

Mr Gerrard

  81. At the end of your paper, you gave a list of recommendations, things that you suggested this Committee ought to be saying to the Government. Can I just ask you about one of those, I think we have covered all of them except one, which is the one which says: "Make explicit the linkages between our national strategy...and the European process." I was not quite clear what you meant by that; first, what linkages you thought should be highlighted, but, in particular, what that means in terms of a negotiating position?
  (Mr Madden) This stemmed from our worry, in reading our UK sustainable development strategy, that, given the importance of the EU in setting environmental policy but also the impact of a range of other EU policies on agriculture, transport, and so on, there was very, very little mention in our national strategy of the European dimension and the interaction, the interplay between the UK and European levels. And we think that these linkages need to be made explicit, when we come to revise that strategy, we make those linkages explicit. And we also need to set up elements of what our strategy is for Europe and what we are trying to get out of it and what we would like to see there. So when we do come to rewrite or revise the strategy we would like to see a lot more attention paid to that interplay.

  82. I can understand that point, I was not quite sure what you meant by using this as a negotiating position at Helsinki. I can understand the point that you are making, that within our strategy we ought to be clear about what the linkages are; which are the particular points that need attention?
  (Mr Madden) I think, the Helsinki point, we feel this Committee will be making recommendations to the UK Government as to what it can do, and that is one thing that we think it needs to do. We would also, obviously, like to see sustainable development strategies developed by all other European countries; most of them have environment plans, of one sort or another, but if we are going to have an EU-level sustainable development strategy we are going to need to develop more of those at the national level.
  (Ms Willis) A wider point here is that the UK is actually a good example of structures for environmental integration; we have got your Committee, we have got the Sustainable Development Unit and we have got the strategy and the headline indicators, which a lot of other countries in Europe are looking at as an interesting set of indicators also to promote sustainable development to the wider public. So when our Government goes to Helsinki they can go there with this quite strong backing of what we have achieved at a national level. So I think that is something positive that the Government can play on.


  83. We obviously have that going for us, namely this sensible strategy which is emerging, as you say, but I wonder what you could say about the reputation of the United Kingdom in environmental matters, what reputation does it have at the moment, inside Europe, on environmental matters; are we still a baddie, or are we improving?
  (Mr Madden) Our feeling, I think, in general, is that there has been a marked improvement, and through, as we have listed, our greening government machinery and our strategy and probably more of a sense of engagement by the UK in the development of the European policy, and, as we have heard before, our better record, probably, on enforcement than many other countries, I think that people are now seeing the UK as a country that can provide leadership in Europe.

  84. So, amongst the European nations, what role would you expect us to play, as it were, by comparison with, let us say, The Netherlands, or Denmark, or other countries which traditionally have been rather more effective?
  (Mr Madden) I think that—we are in danger of repeating ourselves—we have a set of domestic policies and initiatives that have some lessons for Europe in horizontal integration of environment, and that means that we can go into Europe and offer some real examples.

  85. You have no particular thoughts about the negotiating tactics that Mr Prescott should employ?
  (Mr Madden) No.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. That was extremely helpful, and we are grateful for your attendance and what you have said. Thank you very much.

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