Select Committee on European Scrutiny Sixth Report




COM(01) 483

Draft Council Decision relating to the conclusion, on behalf of the Community, of the Protocol on Water and Health to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Trans-boundary Watercourses and International Lakes.
Legal base: Articles 174(4) and 300(2)EC; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 17 August 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 20 August 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 2 October 2001
Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: EM of 2 November 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: Legally important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but further information requested


  5.1  The Protocol on Water and Health to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Trans-boundary Watercourses and International Lakes seeks to strengthen national and international actions aimed at the protection and sound management of surface, ground and drinking waters, and will require parties to take the measures needed for the provision of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, in order to prevent, control and reduce water-related disease and to protect water resources used as sources of drinking water. It also requires parties to carry out monitoring and reporting of any water-related disease should this occur.

  5.2  In addition to individual countries, regional economic integration organisations, such as the Community, may accede, subject to the proviso that, if none of its members become a party, that organisation is then bound by all the obligations set out in the Protocol.

The current proposal

  5.3  The purpose of this proposed Council Decision is simply that the Community should accede to the Protocol.

The Government's view

  5.4  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 2 November 2001, the Minister of State for the Environment at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Michael Meacher) says that the Community has already adopted legislation in this field which meets all the substantive obligations imposed by the Protocol, but that, as no Member State has ratified it, the proposal would in effect give the Community exclusive external competence, including the Protocol's reporting and international co-operation obligations. He says that the UK is supportive of the Protocol's aims, which also provide a framework within which the candidate countries of central and eastern Europe can move towards the Community's standards of water related health, and expects to ratify it once it becomes clear that those countries themselves see the Protocol as the appropriate mechanism for fulfilling those mechanisms.

  5.5  However, the Minister also points out that the transference of exclusive competence in this area to the Community would run counter to government policy, which is that, as a general rule, wherever there is any residual national competence, Member States, as well as the Community, should be parties to international agreements, thereby protecting their ability to influence and participate in such agreements.


  5.6  It is clear that the only significant issue arising on this proposal relates to the competence involved which, as things stand, it would transfer to the Community in this area. Whilst we have noted the Minister's concerns on this, one way of forestalling the problem would presumably be for a Member State — if necessary, the UK — to ratify the Protocol, in which case, if we understand the position correctly, the question of exclusive Community competence would no longer arise. It is not immediately apparent from the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum whether this option has been considered, and, whilst we see no need to withhold clearance on this account, we would welcome his comments on it.

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