Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Malcolm Wicks MP, Minister for Energy, Department of Trade and Industry to the Chairman

  Further to my letter of 31 July 2005,[76] I am writing to inform you of the latest position on this proposal.

  The European Parliament completed its second reading of the draft Directive on 13 December 2005 and voted to maintain a number of key provisions in the Council's Common Position, all of which were of importance to the UK. This was a good outcome for the UK and is likely to facilitate early agreement at conciliation, expected to begin in March/May under the Austrian Presidency.

  Among the key provisions upheld were collection targets for spent portable batteries of 25% of average annual sales after four years, rising to 45% after eight years; a partial ban on the marketing of portable nickel-cadmium batteries; with an exemption for their use in cordless power tools (around 70% of total sales); and a dual Treaty base for the draft Directive.

  The Parliament also adopted a number of other amendments to the Common Position and, although less significant for UK, these prevented agreement at Second Reading. Among these further amendments was a mandatory requirement for distributors of portable batteries to provide instore collection facilities for spent product. The UK is opposed to this amendment in its present form since, if adopted, it would require all retailers of portable batteries, including corner shops and market stalls, to collect spent batteries. This would undermine the UK's ability to take a multi-stakeholder approach to battery collection and could negate any environmental gains made from the collection and recycling of spent consumer batteries, I am however aware that there is some support in the Council for mandatory retailer takeback from those Member States with established collection schemes.

  The Parliament further adopted a provision requiring all batteries in consumer appliances to be readily removable by the consumer when spent. The UK believes such a requirement is unnecessary as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, due to enter into force in the UK in 2006, already requires the removal of batteries from separately collected appliances. This view is reflected in the Council.

  Other amendments include compulsory provisions for Member States to promote research and encourage the development of batteries with improved environmental performance, and new recycling technologies. I am aware that whilst some Member States support the principle behind these provisions, a majority of the Council believe they should be placed in the preamble of the draft Directive.

  Early indications are that these amendments are likely to constitute some of the key areas for discussion at conciliation.

14 February 2006

Letter from Malcolm Wicks MP to the Chairman

  Further to my letter of 14 February 2006, 1 am writing to inform you of the latest position on this proposal.

  On 2 May 2006, the day of the official opening of conciliation between the Council and European Parliament, regarding the draft Battery Directive, agreement was reached in the Conciliation Committee. The agreement must now be formally adopted by the European Parliament and Council. It is anticipated that this will take place in July.

  As noted in my previous letter, the European Parliament's second reading of the draft measure represented a good outcome for the UK, as it upheld a number key provisions in the Council's Common Position including reasonable collection targets for portable batteries, limited scope of the partial ban on nickel-cadmium batteries, and a dual Treaty base for the draft Directive, all of which were important issues for the Government. I also highlighted some less significant proposals put forward by the European Parliament, to which the UK and other Member States were opposed, which prevented agreement at second reading.

  The Austrian Presidency was keen to conclude negotiations on the dossier, and both the Council and the European Parliament supported this aim. To this end, delegations were urged to be flexible in their positions with regards to non-critical European Parliament amendments. The Joint Text reflects this approach.

  In addition to the key provisions mentioned above, the Joint Text contains a number of new provisions, adopted by the Council as part of the "package" in conciliation, including:

    —    Portable batteries to be labelled with their capacity. The detail of this provision, whose aim is to inform consumer choice, will be decided through comitology. The UK saw difficulties with this proposal since battery performance depends on the appliance in which the cell is used, and measurement and testing regimes would seem to be necessary. However, other Member States did not support this position. The UK will work through the TAC to try to ensure satisfactory design of any labelling system.

  Distributors (including retailers) of portable batteries to take back spent portable batteries from end users, at no charge. As stated in my previous letter, the UK was opposed to this amendment as it could undermine the adoption of a multi-stakeholder approach to battery collection. However, we secured some flexibility, permitting Member States with equally effective collection systems to side-step this provision. As you may be aware, the Government and Devolved Administrations have commissioned the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to investigate the most cost effective and environmentally efficient methods for collecting spent portable batteries. As part of its investigation, WRAP has set up a pilot kerbside portable battery collection scheme covering some 350,000 households in the UK. It is anticipated that this scheme will be expanded over the coming months to include retailer take back and collection at civic amenity sites.

    —    Appliances to be designed to allow spent batteries to be readily removed. The UK is of the opinion that this provision is superfluous as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive already requires the removal of spent batteries from waste appliances prior to recycling. Since we feel too that the proposal has the potential to cause internal market difficulties, my officials have written to the Commission asking them to develop guidance for Member States.

    —    De minimis rule for small producers. The UK successfully argued for this provision which allows Member States to exempt small producers from the financing requirement of the Directive.

    —    Common information requirements for producers across all Member States. The UK supported this provision, as it will reduce the administrative burden on producers.

  The Joint Text may not emerge ahead of formal adoption by the Council. In light of this, I am willing to submit a copy of the Joint Text (with an Explanatory Memorandum) if the Committee would find this helpful.

28 June 2006

76   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, p 324. Back

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