Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Ninth Report





COM(02) 412

Commission Communication: "Environmental Agreements at Community level within the Framework of the Action Plan on the Simplification and Improvement of the Regulatory Environment".

Legal base:


Document originated:

17 July 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

1 August 2002


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Basis of consideration:

EM of 30 August 2002

Previous Committee Report:


To be discussed in Council:

Later in the year

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:




    1. According to the Commission, its Action Plan, "Simplifying and Improving the Regulatory Environment",[56] stressed the need, where this can be done without undermining the provisions of the EC Treaty, for appropriate use to be made of alternatives to legislation in order to achieve the least burdensome option consistent with securing the goals to be pursued. The Commission also points out that the environment is a field with considerable recent experience of self-regulation and voluntary sectoral agreements, such as those with manufacturers in Europe, Japan and Korea over carbon dioxide emissions from passenger cars, and it recalls that it issued in 1996 a Communication[57] on the application of such agreements at national level, and that the Sixth Environmental Action Programme[58] contained a commitment to "encourage voluntary commitments or agreements to achieve clear environmental objectives, including setting out procedures in the event of non-compliance".
    2. The current document

    3. This Communication outlines the Commission's thinking on the benefits of voluntary environmental agreements at Community rather than national level, and on the procedural framework for initiating, acknowledging and implementing them. It argues that experience to date has been encouraging, and that such agreements can deliver real benefit, including a pro-active approach by industry; cost-effective and tailor-made solutions to particular environmental problems; and, in certain cases, faster delivery of environmental objectives than could be achieved through legislation.
    4. The Communication sets out the different means by which Europe-wide environmental agreements could be initiated. They could either be:

    • spontaneous decisions initiated by stakeholders;

    • initiated by stakeholders in an area where the Commission has expressed an intention to legislate; or

    • initiated by the Commission.

    1. It suggests that the regulatory framework within which such agreements would be concluded and implemented can be broken down into two main categories — self-regulation and co-regulation. Environmental agreements concluded in the former context would involve a proposal initiated by the operator concerned (such as an industry association). The Commission's role would be to acknowledge such an agreement, either through a Recommendation or through a simple exchange of letters. Likewise, if it chose to, it could encourage the initiation of an environmental agreement through issuing a Recommendation. Any such Recommendation would be non-binding, and could only encourage operators towards an environmental objective, though the Commission suggests that it would be possible to accompany this type of agreement with a Decision of the Council and the European Parliament governing the monitoring of its results.
    2. Under co-regulation, environmental agreements would be concluded in the context of a legislative act. This would involve the legislators setting out the essential elements, such as the objectives, deadlines, implementation mechanisms, and monitoring requirements, in a legal act such as a Directive. It would then be left for the operators to determine how to achieve the objectives set: their level of freedom to do so would be determined at the legislator's discretion, and would depend on the experience and competence they were acknowledged to have. The provisions to be used where an agreement's objectives or intermediate objectives are not met could also be set out in the legal act, and, if an agreement failed to produce the expected results, the Commission could exercise its right to make a traditional proposal for legislation.
    3. Whichever type of framework applies, the Commission proposes to pay particular attention to the following criteria for the appropriate use of environmental agreements:

    • Cost-effectiveness of administration

As monitoring costs could potentially build up, it will be important that the use of voluntary agreements is not less cost-effective than alternatives.

    • Representativeness

The operators and stakeholders included should represent the vast majority of the relevant economic sector.

    • Quantified and staged objectives

These should be set in unambiguous terms and measures from a well-defined baseline. Where long time-scales are concerned, interim targets should be included.

    • Involvement of civil society

All agreements should be widely publicised and all stakeholders informed and given due opportunity to comment.

    • Monitoring and reporting

The requirements for this should be included in the agreement, or, if applicable, legal act.

    • Sustainability

All agreements should be compatible with the objectives of sustainable development.

    • Compatibility of incentives

All agreements should be consistent with and complement other policy instruments, such as taxes, incentives or legislation.

The Government's view

    1. In his Explanatory Memorandum of 30 August 2002, the Minister of State (Rural Affairs) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Alun Michael) says that the Government welcomes the Commission's thinking in this area, as in general do the non-governmental organisations. The UK sees the topic of voluntary environmental agreements as being a useful element of the modernisation of the regulatory process and the improvement of European governance, and believes that, properly used — with independent assessment of the stringency of the targets, and formal review points — they could be very effective. He also suggests that their potential value has increased as environmental policy has progressed from a focus on point-source pollution to more complex challenges such as climate change and resource efficiency.
    2. The Minister particularly welcomes the recognition in the Communication that the overall aim when selecting the appropriate policy tool should be to 'seek the least burdensome option consistent with the achievement of the goals pursued'. However, he says that, since key elements of an agreement, notably the environmental objective, would be integrated into the legal act under co-regulation, it is essential that industry is consulted on the targets, deadlines and implementation mechanisms, in order to ensure these will be workable and effective. The UK therefore welcomes the Commission's assurance that the legal act will be subject to stakeholder consultation during its preparation, particularly as concerns have been expressed over transparency and accountability for delivery.
    3. The Minister says that the Communication will have no direct regulatory impact on UK business or industry. However, an important consequence is that the Commission is now committed to considering the option of an environmental agreement with industry to achieve objectives defined by the political process, rather than relying solely on regulatory approaches. He suggests that the Commission's increased willingness to consider self-regulatory action in the form of European-level environmental agreements will have corresponding consequences for business and industry in the UK and throughout the Community.
    4. Conclusion

    5. We have noted this Communication, which seeks to build upon earlier initiatives aimed at encouraging voluntary environmental agreements, and, in clearing it, we think it right to draw it to the attention of the House.


56   COM(02) 278. Back

57   (17825) 12457/96; see HC 36-xiv (1996-97), paragraph 8 (12 February 1997). Back

58   (22132) 5771/01; see HC 28-xi (2000-01), paragraph 5 (4 April 2001), HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 3 (18 July 2001), HC 152-ii (2001-02), paragraph 2 (17 October 2001). Official Report, European Standing Committee A, 16 January 2002. Back

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Prepared 11 November 2002