Select Committee on European Communities Second Report




The European Environment Agency has an important role to play in gathering information on compliance and promoting uniform standards of monitoring, sampling and assessment.

The EEA will require powers to verify the accuracy of the data it receives. Its officers should be empowered to visit Member States to ensure that the information provided is accurate and consistent.

Scrutiny of environmental policies which do not involve direct Community expenditure is not a matter for the Court of Auditors.

The directive on standardising reporting requirements is greatly to be welcomed. Information provided by Member States to the Commission, and to the EEA, should be in the public domain.

The Council of Ministers should regularly consider implementation of environmental legislation, on the basis of reports from the Commission and possibly the EEA.

Greater use should be made of regulatory or management committees. Consideration should be given to increasing their scope so as to allow evaluation of standards set under directives and proposal of any necessary amendment. Legislation should be brought forward to establish committees in respect of directives where no provision currently exists.

The European Parliament should be encouraged to extend its scrutiny of implementation, though the administrative and resource constraints are noted. National parliaments also have a role.

The Commission's proposals

  48.    The Commission's proposals (Communication, paragraph 53) for expanding the scope of its annual reports on monitoring the application of Community law have already been mentioned in the context of transposition (see paragraph 44 above). The Communication goes on to say that the Commission aims to ensure "through the most effective use of the Reporting Directive[33], and close co­operation with the European Environment Agency, ... that the best possible information is available on the effectiveness of Community environmental measures and can be used in the formulation of its policies on environmental protection." It intends to commission case studies to evaluate the transposition, application and enforcement of selected environmental provisions, and to disseminate the results widely (paragraphs 57-58). It proposes to "closely involve the Agency on the evaluation of the effects of Community measures, and ensure that the information, knowledge and skills of the Agency are fully utilised in assisting the Commission in its role of formulating proposals for new Community environmental measures and reviewing existing legislation." (paragraph 59)

Witnesses' views

The Commission

  49.    Doubts were expressed by both IEEP and DG XI itself on whether the Commission had the capacity to carry out its proposals for expanding the scope of its annual reports on the application of Community law. The need for expansion, however, was clear, especially as the content of these reports had diminished in recent years (QQ 333, 363-4). IEEP referred to the study they had done of the Commission's compliance with its obligations to produce reports on particular directives[34]: the record was not good. They also doubted whether the Reporting Directive (which came into effect after their report) would achieve the Commission's aims as set out in paragraph 58 of the Communication, since as at present drafted it did not elicit the sort of information that would allow an evaluation of the effectiveness of Member States' implementation measures: this weakness of the Reporting Directive was not acknowledged in the Communication (Q 331). Both DoE and IEEP felt there was a potential role for the European Environment Agency in taking responsibility-either as the Commission's agent or under extended powers-for producing implementation reports required by Directives (QQ 20, 334). As a complementary activity, IEEP referred to the Manual of Environmental Policy: the EC and Britain[35], which they published with financial support from DoE, and suggested that it would be useful if similar publications were produced for all Member States, perhaps with the help of the Commission or the Agency (Q 339). A similar suggestion was made by FoE (p 83).

The European Parliament and national parliaments

  50.    The European Parliament has taken a close interest in the development of the Commission's proposals. Its Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection held a public hearing, jointly with DG XI, on 30 May 1996 entitled Challenges to Environmental Protection-Making the Legislation Work[36]. The subsequent working document by the Committee's Chairman, Mr Ken Collins, which we have reproduced at Appendix 6, echoes many of the points that were put to us in evidence, including the need for greater transparency and better reporting arrangements; it also argues for an enhanced role for the Parliament through the extension of the co­decision procedure to all environmental legislative measures (see paragraph 10 above). The document foreshadows the resolution adopted by the Parliament on 15 May 1997, reproduced at Appendix 7.

  51.    DG XI offered no opinion on the merits of an enhanced role for the European Parliament, but commented that if the scope of the Commission's annual monitoring reports were expanded as proposed, it was likely to have the effect of increasing the Parliament's level of involvement in the process of implementation (Q 382). The CBI saw the Parliament's role as one of monitoring, not enforcement (Q 47); the Environment Agency said it would support a greater scrutiny role for the Parliament (Q 130). The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) saw a role for the Parliament in scrutinising the reports from the regulatory committees (see paragraph 29), whose minutes should be published and made available to it; it also should receive reports from the Commission on the handling of complaints and hold Commissioners to account (Q 173). Mr Haigh suggested that the Parliament could be more active in this field on its own initiative; he also suggested that national parliaments could be more active in examining the implementation and effectiveness of existing directives, as for example this Committee had done with the directive on freedom of access to environmental information (see paragraph 2) (QQ 325-6).

The Council of Ministers

  52.    We asked DG XI whether the Council of Ministers had ever been asked to consider implementation or enforcement issues in detail in relation to the environmental sector. Mr Kremlis said that there had been no systematic consideration in the past. But the draft Council Resolution, due for discussion at the June 1997 Environment Council meeting (see paragraph 12 above), would be inviting the Commission, in addition to its annual monitoring report, to submit to the Council a sectoral report on the environment with detailed information on transposition and practical implementation, drawing on a report from IMPEL. The Council would undertake to examine regularly the state of implementation and enforcement of Community environmental law (Q 381)[37].

The European Environment Agency

  53.    Mr Osborn outlined to us the main developments in the Agency since the Report on our enquiry in 1995 (see paragraph 2)-when it would be fair to say that the Agency's existence was more notional than actual. The Agency was now fully up to complement for the purposes of its present functions, and had established a network of "topic centres" throughout Europe, with a wider network of institutions and information bodies with whom the Agency was in correspondence. He felt that the Agency was making good progress in its basic task of "improving the quality, timeliness, reliability and consistency of information about the environment throughout Europe....It is slow, laborious work, but the quality of the information is beginning to improve already." Major products of this work had been two "state of the environment" reports[38]. Other significant activities were the development of protocols on methodology for measuring water and air quality data (QQ 217-8).

  54.    Mr Osborn thought it would be a failure if the Agency regarded its clients as simply the three main Community institutions in Brussels: "we have an outreach to everyone who is interested in the environment throughout Europe" (Q 220). Asked what he expected to see emerging from the Commission's current review of the Agency, he said that radical proposals were unlikely at this stage: the Agency was conducting its own "self-examination" as a contribution to the review, but its position was essentially to wait and see what was proposed for it (Q 219). (Mr Kremlis' response to a similar question was that the review was on target, but he volunteered no information about the likely outcome (Q 383)[39].) Mr Osborn stressed that the Agency's prime task was "collecting, assembling, explaining, demonstrating good information about the environment and trends in it....We must not have anything given to us that could get in the way of that task". The Agency was not keen to become directly involved in inspecting compliance with environmental legislation: "we think we do better by helping in a co­operative way to build up the information structures". However, he thought the Agency "could go a bit further in the direction of auditing the capacity of Member States to produce their monitoring information in a regular way and to draw attention to gaps and deficiencies" (Q 223).

  55.    Some of our witnesses saw a more ambitious role for the Agency in monitoring and evaluating the implementation and effectiveness of EU environmental legislation. For instance, the CBI argued for the Agency taking on an "audit of inspectorates" role (Q 36). The DoE suggested that the Agency could assist the Commission by doing comparative analyses of the impact of environmental policies in Member States and by evaluating Member States' implementation reports. They did not, however, consider it should become an inspectorate (QQ 20-1). The (England and Wales) Environment Agency, SEPA and English Nature agreed that the EEA should stop short of becoming an inspectorate, and should not become involved in evaluating the effectiveness of policy or advising on measures to be taken: its distinctive contribution was in quality assurance of environmental data that formed the basis of Community policy-making (QQ 154, 318). Mr Osborn agreed, however, that there was scope for the EEA to develop closer relationships with the regulatory committees set up under various Directives, such as the ORNIS and Habitats Committees[40](Q 233-4).

  56.    Mr Wilkinson (IEEP) said "if the Agency is going to provide information on the future state of the environment and the distance that we have to travel to meet targets...almost by definition it has to review the effectiveness of policy measures which Member States have put in place" (Q 330). The Agency's tasks, as defined in the Regulation which established it[41], were consistent with its having a role in the reporting and evaluation process: directives might need to be amended to enable the Agency to undertake tasks which were currently the Commission's responsibility, but the Agency could undertake work on behalf of the Commission (see Appendix 5, p 71).

  57.    Mr Osborn said that the EEA's report on "green taxes"[42], produced at the request of the European Parliament's Environment Committee, illustrated the point that it was difficult for the Agency to carry out a purely "informational" study without straying into policy analysis, which in this instance had caused some sensitivities with the Commission (Q 227). The UK EEB found that report a useful piece of work, and suggested that the Agency should do similar studies on its own initiative,as well as at the request of the Parliament or the Commission (Q 194). Mr Osborn, however, counselled caution: "The jewel that we have at the moment, which could be imperilled by getting too far into policy recommendations, is that we are regarded as authoritative and objective and unchallengeable....I think we shall do ourselves damage, and we shall do Europe damage, if we try and compete with the Commission in that area" (QQ 228-9).

Opinion-monitoring, reporting and evaluation

  58.    Although there has been some move towards standardising reporting requirements in EC environmental Directives, this is not yet consistent. We recommend that all future EC environmental legislative measures should contain provision for regular reporting on implementation, and that any gaps in existing legislation are filled. Such reports should always be publicly available.

  59.    We support DG XI's proposals for a detailed annual report on implementation and enforcement in the environmental field. We hope that such reports will fill the gaps in detailed information which have developed in the Commission's annual reports to the European Parliament.

  60.    We find the Institute for European Environmental Policy's Manual of Environmental Policy an extremely useful reference publication and hope that the DoE will continue to support its regular updating. We recommend that the Commission, perhaps in association with the European Environment Agency, should look for ways of encouraging the production of similar manuals in other Member States where they do not already exist.

  61.    There is scope for the European Parliament to play a more active role in encouraging conformity by Member States with Community environmental legislation and in monitoring the way in which the Commission discharges its responsibilities. Reports by the European Environment Agency should be submitted to the Parliament as well as to the Council of Ministers and the Commission.

  62.    National parliaments could be more active, too, in examining the implementation and effectiveness of existing Community legislation, in addition to their role in commenting on new proposals from the Commission.

  63.    The Council of Ministers remains preoccupied with the negotiation of new policies and laws. We would urge that, certainly in the environmental sector, it should regularly consider implementation issues on its agenda. This could take the form of (a) considering required reports on particular Directives, prepared by the Commission (or the European Environment Agency) and (b) considering reports by the Commission on the progress of formal implementation of agreed Directives before deadline periods. We are pleased to note that the June 1997 Council Resolution contains a clear commitment to such a process. The European Parliament can play a part too in encouraging the Council to consider implementation questions regularly and systematically.

  64.    We congratulate the European Environment Agency on its rapid development from a standing position in October 1993. As the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has said, one of the most valuable tasks that the EEA can perform is the production of a "quality assured system of data".

  65.    We support the Chairman of the EEA in his wish to see more effective links between the EEA and the various regulatory committees set up to advise the Commission. This should not, however, detract from the Commission's role in policy development.

  66.    We therefore do not feel that it would be helpful in the present stage of the Agency's development that it should have a formal role in the implementation and enforcement process. This would over-stretch its resources and detract from its need to establish an authoritative and objective credibility. The matter should, however, be kept under review.

  67.    Nevertheless, we feel that the Agency could play a lead role in preparing regular reports as required under many, but by no means all, environmental directives. This would be consistent with the Agency's tasks as defined by Article 2 of its founding Regulation. Where existing directives require the Commission to produce a report, we see no reason why the Commission could not ask the Agency to assist in its preparation. It is for consideration in the future whether the Agency should not take on the full responsibility for preparing such reports, subject to its being given the necessary authority.

  68.    In assisting the Commission in the preparation of reports, we think it is inevitable that the Agency will need to consider implementation problems as well as the current physical state of the environment in question. This need not imply any trespassing on the Commission's territory: the Agency would be providing objective and largely factually based reports without straying into policy recommendations. Any material provided by the Agency to the Commission for these purposes should, in our view, be published. We also believe the Agency can play an important role in helping to elaborate the information required from Member States in compiling such reports in order to iron out potential inconsistencies and improve comparability of information. We recognise that such a role might require the Agency to increase its legal expertise.

33   See paragraph 11, footnote 16. Back

34   The state of reporting by the EC Commission in fulfilment of obligations contained in EC environmental legislation, Institute for European Environmental Policy, London, November 1993. Back

35   Cartermill Publishing, London, ISBN 1 86067 036 9 (looseleaf, updated twice yearly). Back

36   Mr Haigh's paper, reproduced at Appendix 5, was produced for that occasion. Back

37   These proposals were accepted in the Resolution as adopted. Back

38   Europe's Environment: the Dob_íš Assessment, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, 1995; Environment in the European Union (1995): Report for the Review of the Fifth Environmental Action Programme, EEA, 1995. Back

39   It was later reported that on 16 June 1997 the Commission had adopted a proposal to amend the EEA Regulation (see footnote 41): inter alia this would reaffirm the Agency's existing tasks and mandate; provide for a pan-European State of the Environment report by the Agency in 1998, which would build on its two 1995 reports (see previous footnote); and would enable the Agency to develop a role as a European "one-stop-shop" for environmental information (European Report, No 2233, 19 June 1997). Back

40   Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds, OJ L103, 25 April 1979; Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and fauna, OJ L206, 22 July 1992. Back

41   Council Regulation (EEC) No 1210/90, OJ L120, 11 May 1990. Back

42   Environmental Taxes: Implementation and Environmental Effectiveness, Environmental Issues Series No 1, EEA, Copenhagen, August 1996, ISBN 92 9167 000 6. Back

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