Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twelfth 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: SEM of 21 December 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 152-vi (2001-02), paragraph 5 (14 November 2001)
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment:Legally important
Committee's decision:Cleared (decision reported on 14 November 2001)


  11.1  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. 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 becomes a party, that organisation is then bound by all the obligations set out in the Protocol.

  11.2  The purpose of this proposed Council Decision is that the Community should accede to the Protocol, and we were told in an Explanatory Memorandum of 2 November 2001 from the Minister of State for the Environment at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Michael Meacher) that the Community has already adopted legislation in this field which meets all the substantive obligations imposed by the Protocol. However, he also said that, as no Member State had ratified it, the proposal would in effect give the Community exclusive external competence, and that, although the UK was supportive of the Protocol's aims, and expected to ratify it, the transference of exclusive competence in this area to the Community would run counter to government policy 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.

  11.3  In view of this, we said in our Report of 14 November 2001 that, although we saw no reason to withhold clearance, we would welcome the Minister's comments on the proposition that one way of forestalling this problem would be for a Member State — if necessary, the UK — to ratify the Protocol, in which case the question of exclusive Community competence would presumably no longer arise.

Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 21 December 2001

  11.4  In his Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 21 December 2001, the Minister confirms that, if one of the Member States were to ratify the Protocol, then accession on the part of the Community would be only in respect of those aspects for which it already has competence, thereby enabling the remaining Member States to ratify and participate in the business of the Protocol in due course. However, he does not consider that it would be appropriate for the UK to take such a step. He sees the main potential benefit of the Protocol as being its provision of a framework within which central and particularly eastern European countries can move towards the Community's standards of water-related health through their active participation in the activities of the Protocol, and he expects the Government to ratify it once it becomes clear that those countries see it as a worthwhile instrument for that purpose. He adds that the Government prefers the decision as to when to ratify to be taken on these substantive grounds, rather than as a device for controlling the distribution of competence between the Community and its Member States.


  11.5  Since we have already cleared this document, we are simply noting, without comment, the Minister's response to the point we raised in our earlier Report.

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