Select Committee on European Scrutiny Second Report


PROMOTION OF EUROPEAN NON-GOVERNMENTAL ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ORGANISATIONS


(22533)
10371/01
COM(01) 337

I. Commission Report on the experience gained in the application of Council Decision 97/872 of 16 December 1997 on the action programme promoting European non-governmental organisations primarily active in field of environmental protection.

II. Draft Council Decision laying down a Community Action Programme promoting non-governmental organisations primarily active in the field of environmental protection.



Legal base: Article 175(1) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 22 June 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 26 June 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 18 July 2001
Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: EM of 31 July 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: October 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but request to be kept informed



Background

38.1 Council Decision 97/872/EC[92] establishes for the period 1 January 1998 to 31 December 2001 a Community action programme promoting independent non-profit making non-governmental organisations which are active in the field of environmental protection at a European level by contributing to the development and implementation of Community environmental policy and legislation. It does so by making available to them financial assistance of up to 50% of their budgeted activities and administrative costs, within an overall financial ceiling of 10.6 million euros for the four-year period of the programme. Under the Decision, the Commission was required to report on its operation, and it has now done this in the first of these two documents. The second document is a draft Decision, proposing, in the light of the experience so far, the introduction of a new programme running from 1 January 2002 to 31 December 2006.

The current documents

38.2 The Commission Report has been compiled on the basis of contributions from the relevant Directorate-General, and past and present beneficiaries. According to the Commission, these have — not surprisingly — revealed "overwhelming support" for renewing the present arrangements, subject to addressing a number of areas where weaknesses have been identified, notably as regards its scope and the level of funding available both for individual organisations and overall.

38.3 These views are to a degree reflected in the draft Council Decision, in that, although the aim of the new programme would be similar to the present one, the Commission is suggesting that it should differ in a number of detailed respects. In particular, organisations must be active at a European level covering at least three countries, have been legally constituted for more than two years, and have activities in line with the Community's Sixth Environmental Action Programme. Moreover, apart from running for five years (rather than four), the programme widens the scope of the previous one in two respects. First, it will apply, not only to existing Member States, but explicitly to the applicant countries of central and eastern Europe, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, and the Balkan countries of south-eastern Europe. Secondly, the maximum amount of funding for which a non-governmental organisation would be eligible would increase to 70% of its audited expenses in the previous two years (80% in the case of the candidate countries or the Balkans), subject to the grant not exceeding 80% of the applicant's expenses for the current year.

38.4 The other main difference relates to the financial provision for the programme, which, at 32 million euros, would be over three times that at present. In part, this appears to be justified on the grounds that developments in European governance require greater public participation that in the past, that the prospect of enlargement has created the need for greater co-ordination, and that the drive to integrate environmental protection into other Community activities means that the non-governmental organisations now deal with nearly all aspects of European policy.

The Government's view

38.5 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 31 July 2001, the Minister for the Environment (Mr Michael Meacher) says that, aside from the proposed budget increase, there would be no significant policy implications associated with the new programme. However, he also says that, although the Commission justifies the increased budget on the basis of the increased scope of the programme, the Government will want to be satisfied that the budget is proportionate to the objectives, and that the system for granting aid is fair, transparent and effective.

Conclusion

38.6 When a previous Committee considered the proposal[93] which led to the adoption of Council Decision 97/872/EEC, it expressed concern that it had not been properly thought out. We share that view, and, notwithstanding the justification put forward by the Commission, we have doubts over the near tripling of the budget allocation, and in particular over the wisdom of providing funding of up to 80% of an organisation's expenses. We therefore hope that the Minister will pursue these points in the course of satisfying himself that the arrangements agreed are proportionate to the stated objectives.

38.7 As for the future handling of this document, we do not think the issues it raises are sufficient to justify our withholding clearance. However, we would be glad if the Minister could keep us informed of any further developments, particularly as regards the levels of funding envisaged.


92   OJ No L.354, 30.12.97, p.25. Back

93   (16858) 4163/96; see HC 51-xv (1995-96), paragraph 7 (2 April 1996). Back


 
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