Environmental policy down the pan

Environmental policy has been one of the European Community's success stories. Yet it also has its failings. The most notable of these is the uneven and inadequate implementation of many EC environmental laws by the Member States.

Politicians who criticise the European Commission for failing to ensure a level playing-field are generally also those who are quickest to condemn it for interfering in national affairs when it pursues a Member State for failing to comply with an EC Directive. The same politicians also tend to forget that it is not the Commission which forced the Directive on their country but their government which negotiated and agreed to it in the first place. And they are also likely to have a limited understanding of Member States' desperately limited response to the accumulating evidence that EC laws are being implemented inadequately, and their failure to devise improved mechanisms of enforcement which could be applied by the Commission.

The danger for the EC's environmental policy is that this dismal history will be forgotten in the effort to ensure that the Danish referendum on the Maastricht Treaty was only a hiccup in the Community's affairs rather than a warning of its impending collapse. To be sure, the UK Government, which has the Presidency of the EC Council of Ministers until the end of the year, has announced that it intends to put the enforcement of environmental laws higher on the agenda than ever before. But it is also using the opportunity provided by the Presidency to take the lead in applying the new doctrine of subsidiarity to the EC's environmental legislation. Official reassurances that this does not mean any lowering of environmental standards notwithstanding, there is legitimate concern that the Community's vital role in the environmental arena could be damagingly subordinated to wider political considerations.

The next few months promise to bring an interesting political spectacle. No sensible politician will want to take the blame for proposing that this or that item of environmental legislation should be diluted, repealed or repatriated. Buck-passing between the Commission, the UK and any other Member States which take as keen an interest in subsidiarity will therefore be the order of the day.

Meanwhile, since it is now the silly season, ENDS can provide compelling evidence that the subsidiarity doctrine is already being applied with full vigour by the Commission. The evidence takes the form of a written answer to the European Parliament signed by Carlo Ripa di Meana in one of his last acts before resigning as Environment Commissioner. The full text is reproduced below.

Q: "An increasing number of tourist buses travelling in Europe are equipped with chemical toilets. Unfortunately these cannot be emptied into ordinary toilets at service stations and other stopping places. When emptied in the countryside they cause pollution. Will the Commission therefore take the initiative to enact rules to ensure that chemical toilets can be emptied in an environmentally acceptable manner?"

A: "The problem stated by the Honourable Member has not been identified by the Commission as a subject for priority action at Community level: consequently, no measures are currently envisaged."

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