Select Committee on European Communities Second Report


Discussion paper: The future role and organisation of IMPEL
prepared by the Environment Agency on behalf of Department of the Environment
   for the Dublin Plenary Meeting - 21/22 November 1996

1.  Introduction

  The fact that environmental pollution and environmental crime are trans-boundary in nature means that there needs to be a framework for cooperation at the local, regional, national, European and international level to achieve a satisfactory framework for the implementation and enforcement of legislation to protect the environment. The EU provides the framework and powers to act jointly at the European level and IMPEL, if properly managed and resourced, could have a positive impact on cooperation between regulatory bodies in the EU.

  The debate on the role and organisation of IMPEL has been under discussion for a number of years and important changes have taken place to improve the working of IMPEL, for example the establishment of the IMPEL Secretariat and the participation of the European Commission.

  An ad hoc reflection task force of 11 countries met on 4 September 1995 and drafted a report on the future structure of IMPEL which was tabled at the Madrid Plenary on 24 November 1995. It was agreed at the Plenary that the conclusions of the report would feed into the Commission's work on its Communication on the Enforcement and Implementation of EC Law. However, it was also agreed to be premature to make major changes to the way IMPEL operates until the Commission had completed its work. In the interim the creation of the Secretariat became the top priority to improve the working of the Network and, with the support of the Netherlands and the European Commission, a small Secretariat was set up in May 1996.

2.  Commission Communication on Implementation and Enforcement

  The Commission's Communication on Implementing Community Environmental Law was adopted on 22 October 1996. It puts forward three proposals to improve the implementation and enforcement of EC law, which includes setting minimum guidelines for inspection tasks.

  With regard to IMPEL, the Communication reviews the work carried out so far and suggests that IMPEL can play an important role in improving cooperation in implementation matters between the Commission and member states, between member states and within each member state. The last of these could involve the creation of national coordination networks to be linked with IMPEL which would have the role of national focal point. The Communication proposes that:

    The Commission will consider the existing position of the informal IMPEL network as a useful instrument of cooperation and capacity building, and will make proposals for improving, developing and reorganising its tasks. It will encourage the creation of national coordination networks to be linked with IMPEL through the national coordinators.

3.  UK Discussion Paper and Recommendations for Future Action

  IMPEL needs to decide on its future structure and organisation to work effectively. This discussion paper is intended to stimulate debate and puts forward several proposals to contribute to the process of IMPEL's restructuring. It considers a number of options for IMPEL's role, management structure and scope of activities. It builds on the options of the IMPEL Reflection Task Force as well as a presentation on IMPEL by Pieter Verkerk, Dutch Inspector General, at the European Parliament/Commission Joint Hearing on the Implementation and Enforcement of Law on 30 May which examined IMPEL and the future for cooperation between competent authorities in the member states.

  It does not, at this stage, consider the proposal to create national coordination networks to be linked with IMPEL through the national coordinators.

  The ad hoc reflection task force of September 1995 agreed that IMPEL should provide a professional European centre of expertise on implementation and enforcement, but with a strengthened organisational structure and resources. It is also important for IMPEL to produce quality technical reports which enhance its credibility as a source of expertise and information.

  The UK supports this view and proposes that IMPEL should remain an informal grouping but with a political mandate from the Council in the form of a Resolution. Moreover, a permanent Management Board in place of the Plenary Sessions could provide better, more coherent policy guidance for the work of the Network.

  The Dublin Plenary is requested to discuss the UK's proposals and to draw up a work programme and timetable to carry forward the restructuring of IMPEL to enable agreement at the Dutch Plenary, May 1997.

4.  Proposed Options for IMPEL's Future Role

  In considering its options for the future the UK considers that IMPEL will wish to be able:

    -    to build on its success as a forum for the exchanges between regulators and continue to encourage cooperation on the practical aspects of enforcement;

    -    to complement the work of EC technical committees, dealing with the application of EC legislation;

    -    to provide published information to enhance the transparency of EC legislation;

    -    to help develop greater consistency in the application and enforcement of EC law;

    -    to provide expertise to policy-makers with regard to practicability of EC legislation;

    -    to be subject to effective direction and interplay with the EU institutions (and not fall under the sole management of the Commission).

It also needs to have the necessary resources to operate effectively.

  The options to be considered are:

Option I A: Association of Environmental Regulators

  Under this option IMPEL would become a self-regulatory professional association. Task forces would be set up on a project by project basis to address aspects of the application of EC legislation. The absence of "politics" in the form of the Commission and the Council would encourage a greater frankness in discussions between regulators. On the other hand, given that the majority of regulatory bodies are government/public bodies a fee-paying body may cause problems. In reality, however, the Commission is already involved in the work of IMPEL as join Chair.

Option I B: Formal Commission Advisory Body

  This option would establish IMPEL as a formal advisory body along the lines of the Committee of Senior Labour Inspectors. This was established by a Commission Decision in 1995 after operating as an informal group since 1982. The Committee is useful for making comparative references on health and safety matters and to peer review practices in other countries. While the European Commission chairs the meetings and receives informal reports, the Committee's agenda is directed by the Senior Labour Inspectors.

  This option would clearly define IMPEL's terms of reference as an EC advisory committee and also make it eligible for EC funding which would be helpful as resources are a major problem. However, IMPEL would become part of the European Commission advisory network and lose the ability to work independently and with flexibility.

Option I C: A Consolidated Informal Network with a Political Mandate

  The Council could set out IMPEL's terms of reference and priorities, perhaps by means of a resolution. This would have political rather than legal significance since a resolution would not be legally binding. IMPEL would remain an informal network, but a political mandate would give it direction, a strengthened role in advising on EC policy and implementation and might help further to secure an adequate secretariat.

5.  Proposed IMPEL Structure and Governing Body

5.1  Secretariat

  The Secretariat is the backbone of the IMPEL Network as it coordinates the work of IMPEL committees/working groups and provides support for the production of reports.

  Since its establishment in May 1996 the Secretariat, a senior Dutch inspector supported by a secretary, have made an excellent start to improve the working of IMPEL. However, the workload is already significant and there is a need to review staffing needs. Increased support will become imperative, if IMPEL is to become the focal point for national coordination networks as proposed by the European Commission.

5.2  Committee Structure

  The ad hoc reflection task force agreed that the current working groups needed to be restructured to become three standing committees: one dealing with all legal aspects of implementation and enforcement, one dealing with technical issues and a third dealing with the professional development of pollution inspectors. Each Committee would have the ability to set up small, ad hoc task groups to consider specific issues.

  In the interim it has been suggested that two committees would be more efficient: one dealing with legal policy and implementation issues and the other with the practical enforcement and inspection issues, which would cover raining and joint operational activities such as tackling environmental crime. Ad hoc committees with specific tasks would also be created and dissolved when the task is completed.

5.3  Management Structure

  IMPEL is currently managed by the bi-annual meeting of the Plenary Session which brings together representatives from all member states and is jointly chaired by the Commission and the EU Presidency.

  The Plenary Sessions provide a useful overview of IMPEL's work, but they are failing to guide the Network towards clear objectives, and there is little continuity between succeeding meetings. The sessions tend to endorse the proposals of the working groups as opposed to providing decisive political direction.

  A permanent management board with a rotating chair could provide an alternative to the current Plenary Session. The options for the composition of the management board are as follows:

Option II A: Report to the Environment Policy Review Group

  The EPRG is an informal group of Director-Generals from Environment Ministries set up under the Fifth Environmental Action Programme to exchange views with the European Commission. It has no formal status within the EC and is more a forum for discussing longer term policy issues than a management body. It does not seem the obvious choice for an appropriate body to which IMPEL might report.

Option II B: Report to the Council

  A Troika (or 5 Presidencies to ensure better continuity), representing the Council, would reflect a fairly wide range of interests. Given that a primary aim of IMPEL is to give the European Commission practical advice on potential implementation problems, this option is too limited.

Option II C: Report to a Management Board

  This option would involve the creation of a management board made up of a Troika (or 5 Presidencies), one representative from the European Commission and one from the European Environment Agency and the Chairmen of IMPEL committees on "Implementation" and "Enforcement".

  This option would integrate IMPEL in the EC policy making and implementation process, making its role more transparent and could ensure "added value" to work already undertaken by other bodies such as the Commission technical committees and the European Environment Agency. IMPEL should review areas of cooperation to be developed with the European Environment Agency to provide the EEA with, for example, information on regulatory monitoring arrangements.

  The troika model was adopted for setting IMPEL Dublin Plenary agenda.

6.  Scope of IMPEL's Activities

  So far IMPEL has focused on the authorisation of industrial installations. Discussions on EC legislation have touched on the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive, the Regulation on Eco-Management and Audit and the Environment Impact Assessment Directive. A separate working group was set up to cooperate on the implementation of the Trans-frontier Shipment of Waste Directive. In addition, reports have been prepared, but not published, on the application of the Municipal Waste Incineration Directive and the Large Combustion Plants Directive.

  IMPEL's current scope is too limited to address properly practical implementation issues as industrial installations only form part of EC environmental legislation. However, to broaden IMPEL's scope to cover all aspects of EC environment legislation would not be realistic.

  It is therefore proposed that IMPEL could address the "cross-cutting" regulatory aspects of EC environment legislation on the main media of air, waste and water. Areas to be considered would include approaches to licensing, monitoring, auditing, and the regulation of other polluters, for example, sewage treatment works, agriculture, small and medium sized companies. Cooperation in the monitoring of waste movements to stop environment crime as currently undertaken by IMPEL's TFS II working group would also remain part of IMPEL's scope. IMPEL might also cover environmental impact assessment, which is linked by some member states and the Commission with the draft IPPC Directive.

  IMPEL would not address chemicals and health-related legislation, which are dealt with by other agencies or product safety directives (ie drinking water and pesticides). However, consideration should be given to linkage with authorities responsible for other aspects of EC environment policy such as nature protection and conservation.

7.  Looking to the Future EU: Central and Eastern Europe

  Membership of IMPEL is currently limited to EU member states. However, IMPEL should consider, within the capabilities of its financial and physical resources, encouraging the participation of authorities from Central and Eastern Europe at IMPEL exchange weeks.

Environment Agency
1 November 1996

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Prepared 21 July 1997