Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report


COM(01) 31

Commission Communication on the Sixth Environmental Action Programme of the European Community: Europe 2010: Our future, Our choice.

Draft Council Decision laying down the Community Environmental Action Programme 2001-2010.

Legal base: Article 175(3) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: SEM of 4 May 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 28-xi (2000-01), paragraph 5 (4 April 2001)
Discussed in Council: June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: For debate in European Standing Committee A


3.1  Over the last thirty years, the Community has adopted a series of environmental action programmes, the most recent of these (Towards Sustainability) representing its main response to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. This set objectives in five main areas, namely strategies for seven priority issues (climate change, acidification, biodiversity, water, urban environment, coastal zones and waste) and for the management of risks and accidents; target sectors into which environmental concerns should be integrated (industry, energy, transport, agriculture and tourism); broadening the range of instruments; information, transparency of approach and the development of shared responsibility; and the international dimension needed to reflect global issues and the Rio Conference. As such, it set a strategic framework for Community environmental policy until 2000. This latest document 'Europe 2010: Our future, Our choice' would establish the Sixth Environmental Action Programme covering the period 2001-2010, and is accompanied by a draft Council Decision which would give formal effect to such a programme.

3.2  According to the Commission, the aim of the new programme is to identify the issues which have to be addressed if sustainable development is to be achieved, to establish the environmental objectives and targets which need to be met over the next ten years and beyond, and to set out the actions which need to be taken to achieve those objectives, both at Community level and on a local or sectoral basis. It seeks to do this by means of a limited number of "thematic" strategies in areas where a package of co-ordinated measures is needed. These include the application, enforcement and implementation of existing legislation, the integration of environmental concerns into other policies, the use of market-based instruments, changing individual behaviour patterns, and land use planning and management. Within this overall framework, priority would be given to four main areas — climate change, biodiversity, environment and health, and the sustainable management of natural resources and wastes — where the Commission's thinking is set out at some length in paragraphs 5.10 - 5.18 of our predecessors' Report of 4 April 2001.

3.3  The Communication also highlighted the need for the measures taken within the existing Member States to be applied in due course to the new entrants, and for the Community to make its due contribution towards the solving of international problems.

3.4  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 7 March 2001, the Minister for the Environment (Mr Michael Meacher) said that this is a very far-reaching document, which sets out strategic approaches and issues of importance, without laying down specific binding targets in any area or prescribing the detail of any actions that will be necessary. This made it difficult to draw policy implications for the UK, and the Government would need to consider these as and when the Commission put forward proposals to meet the objectives in the programme. He added that the Government nevertheless welcomed the effort to adopt a more strategic focus, which was likely to result in a more coherent approach, but that it would be seeking to emphasize the main challenges over the next ten years, which it saw as climate change and the need to achieve greater resource efficiency in order to de-couple adverse environmental effects from rising prosperity.

3.5  The Minister also said that a Regulatory Impact Assessment was being prepared, and would be submitted as soon as it had been completed, but that, as the programme does not spell out detailed provisions, the assessment would be "at a level of generality in keeping with the nature of the programme".

3.6  In the conclusion to their Report of 4 April 2001, our predecessors noted that the Government would be providing a Regulatory Impact Assessment, albeit in very general terms, and said that they thought it best to await that information before taking a view on this document. In the meantime, however, they said it would be helpful if the Minister could say how far the priorities and goals in this Programme simply represented an extension of the Fifth Programme, and what, if any, the main differences were between the two programmes.

Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 4 May 2001

3.7  In his Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 4 May 2001, the Minister says that the priorities laid out in the Sixth Programme are to a large extent an extension of those of the Fifth Programme, with both aiming to protect the environment and contribute to sustainable development, and identifying climate change, the depletion of natural resources and biodiversity, and waste as key issues, together with the need for environmental concerns to be integrated more into other policies. As to the differences between the two programmes, the Minister says that the latest one addresses the sustainable use of natural resources in much more depth, and gives more prominence to the horizontal or thematic approaches set out in paragraph 3.2 above. He also points out that, although both programmes attempt to address the environmental problems which can best be tackled through co-ordinated Community action, the Fifth Programme also emphasized shared responsibility and aimed at encouraging local and regional initiatives, whereas the latest programme confines itself to action at Community level (though it also envisages such action stimulating action at other levels).

3.8  As promised in his previous Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister has now provided a further Regulatory Impact Assessment. However, as he foreshadowed in his earlier comments, this confirms that the programme itself will not have significant direct costs, in that these will arise as a result of the specific measures taken under it. He points out that the latter will be subject to Regulatory Impact Assessments when they are put forward, which will include a full assessment of quantified costs and benefits.


3.9  We are grateful to the Minister for this explanation, and for his confirmation of way in which any costs and benefits are likely to arise. In the light of his comments, we have considered very carefully whether to recommend this document for debate in European Standing Committee A, given that the House would be able to exercise its scrutiny obligations in this area if it were to consider separately the more significant individual aspects of the programme, such as the strategy for future chemicals policy,[2] which our predecessors recommended for debate on 25 April 2001. Having said that, the document undoubtedly deals with a subject of major importance, and, for that reason, we believe on balance that it should be debated. That is therefore the course we recommend.

2  (22212) 6671/01; see HC 28-xii (2000-01), paragraph 1 (25 April 2001). Back

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