Select Committee on European Communities Twelfth Report


Letter from Baroness Hilton of Eggardon, QPM, Chairman of Sub-Committee C, to James Clappison, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment

  Sub-Committee C has considered an advance copy of your Explanatory Memorandum covering a revised version of document 4163/96, as sent to the Council for agreement on a common position.

  As you know, the original document, along with the Commission's Communication Implementing Community Environmental Law (11418/96), was due to be reported on following completion of our current enquiry on Environmental Policy: Monitoring, Enforcement and Transparency. The Report on the enquiry will not now be ready in time for Prorogation, but we expect that work will resume on it once the Select Committee and its sub-committees have been reappointed in the new Parliament. In the circumstances we have considered your request for early lifting of the scrutiny reserve on the NGO proposal, although we would have appreciated rather more notice (preferably in advance of the 3-4 March Environment Council meeting).

  Although we were planning to refer to various aspects of the proposal in the Report, it is not so central to our enquiry that we feel that maintaining the scrutiny reserve is essential. We would, however, like to have an assurance that the draft Decision in its amended form would, in the Government's view, meet the concerns expressed in your original EM of 25 March 1996. In particular, we note that the idea of a Management Committee of Member States' representatives, for which the Government said it would be pressing, does not appear to have emerged from negotiations so far.

  Subject to receiving clarification on these points, we are now prepared to clear the documents.

19 March 1997

Letter from James Clappison, MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, to Baroness Hilton of Eggardon, QPM, Chairman of Sub-Committee C

  Thank you for your letter of 19 March regarding the proposal for a Community action programme for funding environmental non-governmental organisations. The Committee of course would have wished to study the revised proposal before the 3-4 March Environment Council, where a common position was reached on the programme, but I am afraid that my Department only received an advance copy of the unofficial revised text a few days before the Council meeting. I am grateful for your willingness to clear the documents if, in the Government's view, the UK's concerns have been adequately met.

  The revised proposal for an action programme now meets most of the concerns expressed in our Explanatory Memorandum 4163/96 of 25 March 1996. The Government explained in the Explanatory Memorandum that the UK would wish to ensure that a cost benefit analysis of financial support provided under this programme would be carried out. Article 3.2 of the programme has been amended to include a requirement that all activities will be selected on the basis of "a sound cost-benefit ratio", ensuring a value for money return for funds provided.

  The Government also expressed concern in the Explanatory Memorandum, that the programme should not provide support for activities such as the dissemination of information on national policies or the examination of national performance in the implementation of Community policy. During negotiations on the proposal, the UK was keen to ensure that the text was not amended in any way that would facilitate the funding of such activities. The programme has instead been amended in Articles 3 and 4, to emphasise the importance of a Community wide approach. Funding will only be awarded to NGOs "working at a European level" and to activities which contribute to "a multinational approach".

  You raise in your letter the question of a Management Committee, which the Government wanted to see created in order to monitor the progress of the programme. The UK pressed for the establishment of a Committee during negotiations on the programme, receiving support only from France, and that only partially. All other Member States and the Commission felt that the amount of money involved in the programme (ECU 10.6 million), was not sufficient to justify the establishment of a Committee. As the programme was adopted by Qualified Majority Voting, the UK was unable to insist upon this point.

  However, the text has been amended to ensure greater transparency in the administration of the programme: the Commission will be obliged to publish the details of all beneficiaries and amount of aid received in the Official Journal of the Community, and to present a yearly report to the Council and the European Parliament on the implementation of the programme.

  In the light of the amendments secured in the revised text, and the consent already given by all other Member States, I hope that the Committee will now be able to clear the document.

8 April 1997

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