Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 100 - 115)



Mr Robertson

  100. I wonder if you could give me your impression of the nine out of the 23 Councils which have been invited to prepare strategies; are they the right ones, what else would you like to see?
  (Dr Jordan) I am mainly concerned with what has gone on at the national level, but, from what I read and from the people I have talked to, the nine that have been chosen are the ones that you would expect to be in the forefront. There are, of course, certain formations of the Council of Ministers where you would expect environmental issues to bulk large but which bulk large very, very rarely. Fisheries is an excellent example of that, it seems cocooned from the outside world, and is an area where DGXI, in particular, would like to see much greater progress.


  101. You were saying in your earlier remarks that you were not optimistic about the amount of discussion on environmental matters there will be at the Summit, because of the obvious importance of other issues which are crowding the agenda; but, equally, you said that there was a lot going on at the moment and we needed to see whether that could be made to work. So it might not be so bad, clearly it will be a psychological blow if there is no substantial progress, it might not be so bad, in terms of the reality of getting EPI working. Would that be your view?
  (Dr Jordan) Again, I think it is important to realise that history shows that, yes, environment can still pop up onto the agenda relatively late in a Summit, so let us not discount the possibility completely that there will be some tinkering at the margins. Scandinavian Member States, for example, were instrumental at the Amsterdam Summit in encouraging further changes to the Treaties. But it is important also to remember that really it is what is going on outside any Summit that is terribly important, enlargement, for example, the process of accession, the single currency, for example; where are the environmental discussions there? That is really, to my mind, where EPI needs to bite. Huge, history-making decisions are being made in these different areas. Where is the environmental part of that, where are the environmental assessments? Where are the environmental pressure groups campaigning on these things? You do not see it. A lot of these big issues have already been decided. They are now almost working assumptions, really, that these things are good. But do they really help to deliver sustainable development? It is not clear to me that that sort of really high-level discussion about EPI has ever taken place.

  102. Of course, that is par for the course, and sustainable development has not been brought into the top-level thinking in the European Union yet; therefore its absence in all these major discussions?
  (Dr Jordan) Yes.

  103. So unless it is brought in specifically and clearly then it will be a setback?
  (Dr Jordan) Yes. These bigger wagons are already rolling, that is what I am trying to say, and what is decided at Helsinki probably will not really affect them.

  104. If you take, for example, enlargement, which Mr Prodi is now advancing, he is accelerating, and the number of countries which are coming in has been doubled, he is lowering the hurdles, if you like, for coming into the European Union; how would you actually, in practical terms, given such momentum behind the issue, get environment considered in deciding whether Rumania, for example, and Bulgaria, should be parts of the European Union?
  (Dr Jordan) I think, again, that is a political matter. Well, yes, it has to be done through various carrots and sticks, does it not, and you can see, at the moment, the political battles that are going on within the Commission, between the different Directorates General, to set the level of the hurdles. I s the environmental hurdle for these new Member States going to be high or is it going to be low, and you can see at the moment that the hurdle is, I think, moving up and down. The last Environment Commissioner spoke in quite bullish terms about having a very high hurdle, but some of the comments that are now coming out of the Commission seem to suggest that a much lower hurdle will be set some of the new entrants. So this is the detailed nitty-gritty, really, of politics, again, where I think EPI needs to bite if it is really to have any sort of force in the European Union.

Mr Savidge

  105. Would there be any advantage in having some form of progressive hurdle, I am thinking, presumably, with quite a number of those states, a fairly low hurdle would still be significantly better than what they are at, at present?
  (Dr Jordan) This is what the discussions are at the moment centring on, the idea of setting periods of transition for the new entrants. Then the question is how long should these periods of transition be? If they are going to get derogations should they be five years, ten years, or whatever?


  106. As you will have heard, since you were sitting at the back, our previous guests seemed to indicate that they want a Sixth Environmental Action Programme, precisely to give environment that sharpness which it might otherwise lack if you just had an overreaching framework; would you go along with that?
  (Dr Jordan) I can see why the environmental groups would want to do that, it is pretty symbolic, is it not, that, yes, there is a momentum there, but, also, in symbolic terms, perhaps "environmental action programme" are not the right words to be using now, that sustainability is the leitmotif of policy. Should it not now be a sustainability strategy? I think perhaps what has happened in the past is, by calling things environmental, they are seen only to be the responsibility of the environmental parts of government, or environmental parts of the European Union; perhaps by using the word "sustainability" you will achieve this elusive, wider ownership, or what the Fifth Action Plan refers to as "shared responsibility".

  107. Do you go along intellectually with the move towards sustainable development as a concept, as opposed to environment pure and simple; there are some economists, for example, who would argue that the whole thing is rather vacuous? To state the banal, of course we want economic, social and environmental progress all together, but what does that really mean; it would be much better to stick with a straightforward, hard-edged environmental approach which actually got you some real results?
  (Dr Jordan) I think this is what the environmental pressure groups in Britain are beginning to realise, that, yes, environment was, in many respects, a nice, sharp, well-defined area.

  108. So what is your view?
  (Dr Jordan) My own view is, I can see the political environment changing, with much more emphasis now being placed on sustainability. Governments are committing themselves to it, and environmental pressure groups are struggling, I think, to realise, as governments themselves are, that sustainability is a multi-faceted problem, that it involves social, economic and environmental. I hasten to add that environmental economists in my own research centre, CSERGE, have shown that, yes, you can actually begin to measure progress towards sustainability using economic tools, that you can actually appraise projects using tools of appraisal and assessment, and in fact did some work for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in that respect, looking at the effectiveness of policy appraisal.

Mr Robertson

  109. Given the fact though that there are elections every five years, it seems to me governments, of whatever persuasion, tend to put economics far ahead of environmental matters. Is there not a role for the European Union, in which I am not a great believer, but is there not a role for it to really push the environment side, because it does not have the inconvenience of elections, is there not a bigger role for it there, rather than it pushing ahead with what are, essentially, in my view, national matters?
  (Dr Jordan) It is a vexed question, is it not, whether having an unelected Commission, which does not have to stand for election every X number of years, has actually produced a more far-sighted and more strategic approach to environmental problem-solving, or whether a more democratic system, which is subject to the whims of politicians, is preferable. My own view is that the combination of both - the more kind of technocratic, unelected approach of the European Union, which can take a long-term view, and the shorter-term, democratic strength of the national political systems working together, which - is what, in effect, you get in the European Union has somehow produced something which is both good in a democratic sense and also good in a technical sense, if that is the right word.

  110. My submission really, and what I have heard this morning, is there is a great concern that it is almost doing what national governments do and putting economics first; so one must question what is the value of it?
  (Dr Jordan) Again, I think that comes down to individuals and whether they think it is important for things to be done above the heads of states, at the super-national level, or not. But, clearly, yes, there are very strong political and economic forces which do favour the status quo. Yes, do so as powerfully at the European level as they do at the national level as well, strong vested interests.

  111. It is a pity, because a lot of environmental things can only be tackled effectively on a European or even global basis?
  (Dr Jordan) Yes, on subsidiarity grounds, yes. Lots of issues that are environmental should be addressed at the international level.


  112. The UK Government will obviously be going to Helsinki with the UK model in its mind. You looked at three or four different countries, Germany and The Netherlands, and so forth; do you think it is the right model for a European framework?
  (Dr Jordan) I think in the past the UK has not been terribly good at proselytising to other countries, it has tended to take a very reactive approach, certainly throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

  113. Are you thinking of the environment here, or otherwise?
  (Dr Jordan) Environment, yes, I was going to qualify that, and the term "Dirty Man of Europe" was mentioned earlier on. But here is a good example where Britain really can go out and say, "Well, look, we do have valuable experience here of things like policy appraisal, of strong systems of co-ordination," and to say, "Well, look, this has worked for us, it might work for you." And really that is what the Council of Ministers is all about, is it not, of sharing experience and ideas?

  114. And from your bench-marking of different countries you would think the UK comes out quite well, in terms of this sort of policy framework?
  (Dr Jordan) Yes, I think it does, yes. Whether it would work in a country like The Netherlands, which favours a more kind of consensual, bottom-up style of government, maybe not. It probably will not work in a federal state either, like Germany, where you do not have a strong, central, unitary government. So, again, it is about mixing and matching and seeing, again, in accordance with the concept of subsidiarity, what works best and what is most appropriate at the particular levels.

Mr Savidge

  115. One obvious supplementary question is that which came up before, which is do you think an environmental audit committee is a good idea for a European level or for other European countries?

  (Dr Jordan) I would say one thing, that I have actually read some of the Audit Committee's previous Reports, and, as somebody that actively researches and teaches EU and British environmental policy-making, they really do, very powerfully, reveal actually how government works, or does not work; so I find them tremendously useful. Whether there should be an environmental audit committee at the EU level, is another political question. There is already a very strong Environmental Committee for the European Parliament, and I am sure they will waste no time whatsoever in chasing up progress in the Cardiff process. I have no doubt whatsoever. It is too high up the political agenda for them to ignore it.

  Chairman: On that very interesting note, thank you very much indeed for your contribution, it was very interesting indeed, Dr Jordan. Thank you for coming along.

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