Select Committee on European Communities Second Report


COM(96) 500 final

Communication from the Commission on
implementing Community environmental law

Explanatory Memorandum by the Department of the Environment


1.  The Communication notes that more than 200 pieces of environmental legislation have been adopted by the Community. It states that achieving the goal of a high level of environmental protection is only possible if the legal framework is being properly implemented. The Communication notes that there are weaknesses in the current state of implementation of Community environmental law in most parts of the Community, and more action is needed in order to improve the situation.

2.  The Commission has the responsibility under the Treaty of Rome to ensure that Community legislation is applied. It carries out this function by the use of infringement proceedings against Member States under Articles 169 and 171 of the Treaty. However, the Commission is unable to oversee effectively the application of all individual decisions necessary to comply with Community legislation. Moreover, a single, Community wide, judicial enforcement system is unable to take into account legal and administrative structures within Member States. It is argued in the Communication that alternative methods of enforcement are required.

3.  The Communication considers the "regulatory chain" of implementation, which covers legislation, transposition, practical application, enforcement and review. The purpose of the Communication is described as the reinforcement of the obligations which the actors in the regulatory chain (the Commission, Member States, local authorities, industry, citizens and non-governmental organisations) bear for the application of Community environmental law.

4.  The Communication includes 3 new areas for action:

    -    the possible development of Community-wide guidelines establishing minimum criteria for the carrying out of inspection tasks by Member States and the possible need for a limited Community body with auditing competencies;

    -    the possible development of guidelines setting minimum criteria for the operation of environmental complaints and investigations procedures within Member States;

    -    the possible establishment of minimum criteria for increased opportunities for environmental cases to be dealt with by national courts, through broader access to justice on Community environmental law issues by representative organisations.

5.  The Communication also contains a number of proposals for action to reinforce existing systems. These include:

    -    clarity of drafting, transparency and certainty for Community environmental measures;

    -    requiring national implementing measures to include appropriately deterrent sanctions and that they should be notified to the Commission;

    -    consultation by the Commission and Member States;

    -    information strategy for Community environment policy and law;

    -    improving cooperation by means of the Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL);

    -    evaluation of effectiveness of measures through the Reporting Directive and cooperation with the European Environment Agency;

    -    promoting knowledge of Community environmental law;

    -    integration of environmental objectives and law in decisions on Community funding.


6.  The Secretary of State for the Environment has lead responsibility for the subjects covered by the Communication. The Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Lord Chancellor, the President of the Board of Trade, the Secretaries of State for Defence, Transport, Scotland, Wales and Northern ireland and the Minister of Agriculture also have an interest.


7.  The Communication does not constitute a legislative instrument. It will be considered by the Council and by the European Parliament.


8.  The Communication recognises the different roles played in the regulatory chain by the Commission, Member States and others and to that extent is consistent with the principle of subsidiarity. Two of the proposals, on minimum criteria for the handling of complaints and on sanctions, will need to be tested against the subsidiarity principle during the course of discussions on the Communication in the Council. The Government supports appropriate sanctions for non-compliance, but considers that this is a matter for member States. In the UK sanctions can be specified other than in implementing legislation. The Government is pleased to see a reference to the subsidiarity principle in the section of the Communication which refers to the possible need for guidelines on access to the national courts.


9.  The Government broadly welcomes the Communication. The Government is committed to effective implementation and enforcement of European Community environmental law. The policy implications of the Communication will very much depend on how the individual proposals it contains are carried forward. Some proposals are more welcome than others. For example, the Government broadly supports: the proposal for guidelines in carrying out inspection tasks; minimum criteria for handling environmental complaints regarding procedures for administrative decisions (in the UK such complaints are dealt with by Ombudsmen at national and local authority levels) and the proposal that IMPEL should develop as an instrument of cooperation and information exchange.

10.  The Government believes that other of the proposals will need further consideration, for example, the Commission's intention to examine, in due course, the possibility of a limited body with auditing competences to monitor the adequacy of Member States' inspectorates. Similarly, the Government will want to consider carefully the need for Community guidelines on access to national courts by representative organisations. The Commission's recognition of the need to have regard to the subsidiarity principle and to take into account the different legal systems of Member States is welcome. Nevertheless, the Government will wish to ensure that any such guidelines, and any legislative instruments which may subsequently emerge, fully respect the principle that rules of civil procedudre, including rules as to whether representative actions by environmental [or other] NGOs should be allowed, and the rules as to who has locus standi in judicial review or other actions, are matters for Member States and not for the Community.


11.  The Communication itself has no financial implications-but certain amongst the proposals it contains might have financial implications depending on how they are carried forward.


12.  The Government understands that the Dutch Presidency is likely to take forward discussion of the Communication.

James Clappison MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Department of the Environment
9 December 1996

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