Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Meeting between the members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and Mr Henning Arp from the Cabinet of Commissioner Wallström 12 February 2002

  Also present: Mr Dale Baker, Head of Climate Change, and Mr Tom Batchelor, DG Environment, European Commission, and Shan Morgan and James Lowen, Social, Environment and Regional Section, UKRep.

  Mr Martlew asked how we had got to where we were. Mr Arp replied that the Regulation had been adopted unanimously in 1999. Its aim was to exceed the provisions of the Montreal Protocol in phasing out CFCs. Article 16 of the Regulation deals with the recovery of ozone-depleting substances, and Article 16.3 refers to doing so "if practicable" in the case of products separate from fridges. However the foam in a fridge was surely part of the fridge, and therefore fell under Article 16.2 in any event.

  Mrs Organ asked whether other countries had faced problems similar to those experienced in the United Kingdom. Mr Arp replied that when the Management Committee set up under the Regulation had met for the first time in October 2000 it had been clear that recovery of foam was in fact practicable since a number of countries were already doing so—including Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. So the debate about whether Article 16.2 or Article 16.3 applied to the foam was not relevant.

  Mr Simpson asked for the Commission's reaction to the comments made by Mr Meacher in the House of Commons on the matter. Mr Arp conceded that reference to fridges had been added to the Regulation late on in the negotiation—perhaps in late 1998 or early 1999. He commented that it was not (contrary to what Mr Meacher had said) for the Commission to interpret the Regulation: that was a matter first for Member States in the Management Committee, and ultimately for the European Court of Justice. Mr Baker said that the letter from the United Kingdom to the Commission seeking clarification of the Regulation had been brought to the Management Committee, and the position had been made clear there.

  Mr Lepper asked whether the written minutes of the Management Committee could be made available to the EFRA Committee. Mr Arp said that they could be. He said that the position had been made clear in October 2000, and that the Regulation had been further discussed in late 2000 and early 2001. A survey of the facilities available for recovering the foam had been presented to the Management Committee in March 2001, and the position had again been made clear in June 2001. He repeated that the position was clear from October 2000 onwards [whereas the United Kingdom argues that it was not clear until June 2001].

  Mr Tipping asked whether the United Kingdom Government could reasonably argue that recovery of the foam was not practicable. Mr Arp said that he did not think that the provisions of Article 16.3 applied in any event, but since recovery had been practicable in other Member States it was practicable everywhere. He observed that Sweden, Germany, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Denmark now had facilities for dealing with the foam, that Austria exported old fridges, presumably to Germany, that Luxembourg used a mobile recovery unit, and that the position was unclear in France, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.

  Mr Martlew wondered why the words "if practicable" had been included, if in fact it was practicable. Mr Baker commented that this had been a typical negotiating point. Mr Hall asked whether, since the Regulation imposed a legal obligation, the United Kingdom should have ensured that it had capacity to deal with the problem. Mr Arp said that he thought that it should.

  Mrs Organ asked who inserted the words "if practicable". Mr Arp said that he would have to check, but that he thought that it was Sweden. Mrs Organ questioned whether any other Member State had sought clarification. Mr Arp again said that he would have to check. Mrs Organ asked whether the Regulation was an interim measure, phasing out CFCs, and as a result companies had proved unwilling to invest. Mr Baker commented that to deal with old fridges would take a matter of years. Mr Batchelor observed that one could recover the CFCs (and then burn them) or simply incinerate the foam. He said that investment in the right facilities would not be for the short-term—there would still be a need to deal with HCFCs anyway.

  Mr Arp reiterated that Article 16 was crystal clear. It was clear that Article 16.2 applied, not Article 16.3. But even if a cautious interpretation was put on the matter, and Article 16.3 was applied it was clear that recovery of the foam was practicable. The question was crystal clear.

  Mr Tipping asked about the Vehicle End of Life Directive, and the preparedness of the United Kingdom for that measure. Mr Arp said that he could not comment. Mr Arp ended by saying how disappointed he was by the situation, and the way in which it had been handled by the media in the United Kingdom. The victim was environmental policy, and public faith in Brussels. That was a shame because, he said, he was confident that blame for the situation did not lie with the European Commission.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 25 April 2002