Examination of Witness (Questions 100
THURSDAY 21 OCTOBER 1999
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
(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
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
(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.
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
(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
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.
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
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
(Dr Jordan) Yes, on subsidiarity grounds, yes. Lots
of issues that are environmental should be addressed at the international
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
113. Are you thinking of the environment here,
(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.
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
(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
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.