Select Committee on European Scrutiny Second Report


COM(01) 31

Commission Communication on the Sixth Environmental Action Programme of the European Community: Europe 2010: Our future, Our choice.

Draft Council Decision laying down the Community Environmental Action Programme 2001-2010.

Legal base: Article 175(3) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 30 July 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 28-xi (2000-01), paragraph 5 (4 April 2001) and HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 3 (18 July 2001)
Discussed in Council: June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: For debate in European Standing Committee A (decision reported on 18 July 2001)


2.1 Over the last thirty years, the Community has adopted a series of environmental action programmes. The most recent of these (Towards Sustainability), representing its main response to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, set a strategic framework for Community environmental policy until 2000. This latest document 'Europe 2010: Our future, Our choice' would establish the Sixth Environmental Action Programme covering the period 2001-2010, and is accompanied by a draft Council Decision which would give formal effect to such a programme.

2.2 The content was set out at some length in our predecessors' report of 4 April 2001, and we ourselves commented upon it in our report of 18 July 2001, in which we recommended the document for debate in European Standing Committee A.

Minister's letter of 30 July 2001

2.3 We have since received a letter of 30 July 2001 from the Minister for the Environment at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Michael Meacher), providing information on the compromise version of the proposed Directive, which he says the UK supported at the Environment Council on 7-8 June. He describes the outcome in the following terms:

    "The compromise proposal put forward by the Presidency and agreed at the Environment Council retains most of the key elements of the Commission's original proposal that the Government supported. It also reflects the call by Ministers at the March Environment Council for more targets and timetables and the different areas of particular interest to individual Member States. There were a number of other changes.

    General structure

    "The structure of the document has been altered so that the principles, overall aims and strategic approaches come first, followed by the Articles on specific action to be taken in the priority areas identified. Objectives relating to these actions now form part of the same Articles. The compromise text also contains a new Article setting out the way in which thematic strategies should be developed.

    Priority areas

    "The priority areas for action remain unchanged, apart from the addition of a reference to 'quality of life' within the 'environment and health' area. This change is reflected in the addition of a new paragraph on the urban environment in Article 6.

    Targets and timetables

    "The compromise text contains new quantified targets for: electricity from renewable sources; electricity generated by Combined Heat and Power plants; a long-term objective of CO2 concentration below 550ppm. A number of new objectives have been included, for example the promotion of the use of alternative fuels for transport and encouraging the extension of the Natura 2000 network (which protects species identified by the Birds and Habitats Directives) to the Candidate Countries. Further detail has been added to indicative targets contained in the Commission's original proposal.

    "There are a number of new references to timetables, principally dates by which the Commission should come forward with proposals. There is also a provision stating that the objectives should be achieved by the end of the Programme unless otherwise specified.

    Policy-making process

    "There is new language on the need for environmental policy to be undertaken in an integrated way and for objectives to be met by the most effective and appropriate means available with full consideration of all available options and instruments and on the basis of the best available scientific evidence. This accords with the Government's Better Regulation agenda and we consider it a considerable improvement on the Commission's original proposal. There is also a stronger emphasis on implementation, enforcement and policy review.

    Climate Change

    "We particularly welcome the new acknowledgement of climate change as an outstanding challenge of the next ten years and beyond, which reflects the Government's objective of achieving a better sense of relative prioritisation. The Common Position also contains new references to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, action to decouple the link between economic growth and the environmental impact of transport demands and encouraging the development of alternatives to industrial fluorinated gases such as HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons).

    Nature and Biodiversity

    "There is a new aim of halting biodiversity decline and preventing and mitigating the impact of invasive alien species — in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Common Position also has new references to sharing the benefits from the use of genetic resources (again, reflecting what was agreed in the CBD) and the need to combat trade in illegally harvested wood.

    Environment, Health and Quality of Life

    "As well as the slight change to the parameters of this priority action area, there are new paragraphs on noise — in particular further improving measures on noise emissions from services and products — and developing a thematic strategy on the urban environment, including the need to promote the use of low emission vehicles in public transport.

    "More detailed commitments on chemicals are in line with Council conclusions adopted on 7 June on the EU Chemicals Strategy.

    Sustainable Use and Management of Natural Resources and Wastes

    "The Common Position contains new references to developing goals and targets for resource efficiency and in particular qualitative and quantitative reduction targets for relevant wastes.

    International dimension

    "There is new language on further promoting a world trade system that fully recognises Multilateral and Regional Environmental Agreements and the precautionary principle, as well as a reference to aiming at a swift ratification of, compliance with and enforcement of international environmental conventions and agreements where the Community is a Party. As I have indicated, the new language in the Presidency compromise on the policy process, implementation and enforcement, and the key challenge presented by climate change is particularly welcomed by the Government as a significant improvement on the Commission's proposal. Many of the other more detailed changes have had a positive effect on the document and there were none in the final compromise that constituted grounds for the UK to withhold its support for what was a good overall compromise."


2.4 Whilst we are grateful to the Minister for this information, it would clearly have been preferable to have received it before our meeting on 18 July, and, given the gap of nearly six weeks between the Environment Council and that date, we see no reason why this should not have been possible. Notwithstanding this latest development, we stand by our debate recommendation, and we hope that arrangements will be made for this to be held as soon as possible.

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