Meeting between the members of the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs Committee and Mr Henning Arp from the Cabinet
of Commissioner Wallström 12 February 2002
Also present: Mr Dale Baker, Head of Climate
Change, and Mr Tom Batchelor, DG Environment, European Commission,
and Shan Morgan and James Lowen, Social, Environment and Regional
Mr Martlew asked how we had got to where we
were. Mr Arp replied that the Regulation had been adopted unanimously
in 1999. Its aim was to exceed the provisions of the Montreal
Protocol in phasing out CFCs. Article 16 of the Regulation deals
with the recovery of ozone-depleting substances, and Article 16.3
refers to doing so "if practicable" in the case of products
separate from fridges. However the foam in a fridge was surely
part of the fridge, and therefore fell under Article 16.2 in any
Mrs Organ asked whether other countries had
faced problems similar to those experienced in the United Kingdom.
Mr Arp replied that when the Management Committee set up under
the Regulation had met for the first time in October 2000 it had
been clear that recovery of foam was in fact practicable since
a number of countries were already doing soincluding Italy,
Sweden, Denmark and Germany. So the debate about whether Article
16.2 or Article 16.3 applied to the foam was not relevant.
Mr Simpson asked for the Commission's reaction
to the comments made by Mr Meacher in the House of Commons on
the matter. Mr Arp conceded that reference to fridges had been
added to the Regulation late on in the negotiationperhaps
in late 1998 or early 1999. He commented that it was not (contrary
to what Mr Meacher had said) for the Commission to interpret the
Regulation: that was a matter first for Member States in the Management
Committee, and ultimately for the European Court of Justice. Mr
Baker said that the letter from the United Kingdom to the Commission
seeking clarification of the Regulation had been brought to the
Management Committee, and the position had been made clear there.
Mr Lepper asked whether the written minutes
of the Management Committee could be made available to the EFRA
Committee. Mr Arp said that they could be. He said that the position
had been made clear in October 2000, and that the Regulation had
been further discussed in late 2000 and early 2001. A survey of
the facilities available for recovering the foam had been presented
to the Management Committee in March 2001, and the position had
again been made clear in June 2001. He repeated that the position
was clear from October 2000 onwards [whereas the United Kingdom
argues that it was not clear until June 2001].
Mr Tipping asked whether the United Kingdom
Government could reasonably argue that recovery of the foam was
not practicable. Mr Arp said that he did not think that the provisions
of Article 16.3 applied in any event, but since recovery had been
practicable in other Member States it was practicable everywhere.
He observed that Sweden, Germany, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands,
Belgium, Spain, and Denmark now had facilities for dealing with
the foam, that Austria exported old fridges, presumably to Germany,
that Luxembourg used a mobile recovery unit, and that the position
was unclear in France, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.
Mr Martlew wondered why the words "if practicable"
had been included, if in fact it was practicable. Mr Baker commented
that this had been a typical negotiating point. Mr Hall asked
whether, since the Regulation imposed a legal obligation, the
United Kingdom should have ensured that it had capacity to deal
with the problem. Mr Arp said that he thought that it should.
Mrs Organ asked who inserted the words "if
practicable". Mr Arp said that he would have to check, but
that he thought that it was Sweden. Mrs Organ questioned whether
any other Member State had sought clarification. Mr Arp again
said that he would have to check. Mrs Organ asked whether the
Regulation was an interim measure, phasing out CFCs, and as a
result companies had proved unwilling to invest. Mr Baker commented
that to deal with old fridges would take a matter of years. Mr
Batchelor observed that one could recover the CFCs (and then burn
them) or simply incinerate the foam. He said that investment in
the right facilities would not be for the short-termthere
would still be a need to deal with HCFCs anyway.
Mr Arp reiterated that Article 16 was crystal
clear. It was clear that Article 16.2 applied, not Article 16.3.
But even if a cautious interpretation was put on the matter, and
Article 16.3 was applied it was clear that recovery of the foam
was practicable. The question was crystal clear.
Mr Tipping asked about the Vehicle End of Life
Directive, and the preparedness of the United Kingdom for that
measure. Mr Arp said that he could not comment. Mr Arp ended by
saying how disappointed he was by the situation, and the way in
which it had been handled by the media in the United Kingdom.
The victim was environmental policy, and public faith in Brussels.
That was a shame because, he said, he was confident that blame
for the situation did not lie with the European Commission.