New European Constitution May Erase Eco-Progress

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 30, 2003 (ENS) - Some of the European Union's greatest milestones in environmental policymaking could be at risk from attempts to draft a new constitution for the bloc, a major conference on environmental governance heard Tuesday.

An official from the European Commission's Environment Directorate, Pascal Lefevre, told delegates that environment policy was "just not being discussed" in a convention charged with consolidating the EU treaty and its offshoots into a more comprehensible and public friendly document.

Wallstrom

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom rides her bike in Brussels. (Photo courtesy Office of the Commissioner)
A first draft produced by the convention made no mention of the need for sustainable development, Lefevre said. "One of the biggest steps forward since Rio has simply gone," he said, referring to the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The requirement to integrate environmental concerns into mainstream sectoral policymaking was also missing, he said.

Paolo Stancanelli of the convention said the body had deliberately decided to focus on the future form of institutions and decision making procedures, rather than stray into sectoral policy areas. EU governments would have the final say on the constitution's wording, he insisted.

But Lefevre countered that any provisions on the environment might be bargained out in the horsetrading over institutional power that will inevitably settle the text.

Opening the conference on Monday, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said it should provide a "strategic contribution to the consolidation of the European strategy for sustainable development."

The gathering followed up from a similar Commission event just over a year ago. In effect, it provided a platform for a list of speakers to offload their gripes over the formulation and enforcement of EU environment policy.

The chair of the European Parliament's Environment Committee Caroline Jackson said that democratic involvement at the final conciliation stage of agreeing EU laws was "almost meaningless." The procedure should be opened to the public, she said. There was "widespread public suspicion" that laws were not obeyed, while member states consistently failed to implement major directives without giving any hint during their approval that they would face problems.

Jackson

European Parliament's Environment Committee Chair Caroline Jackson on her home beach in Cornwall, England (Photo courtesy Office of MEP Jackson)
The EU needs more framework directives and voluntary agreements with industry, Jackson argued. But Ludwig Krämer of the environment directorate's environmental governance unit launched a stinging attack against them.

Framework laws were "unenforceable," he said. Where there is political will in member states to make local or regional laws, they are used to aid the process. But where there is no political will, authorities "have the flexibility to get out of that." He cited the Framework Waste Directive's unheeded requirement to prevent waste production as a signal example.

The Green G8 group of Brussels environmental lobby bodies today released a critique of the Commission's own contribution to the debate on the future of Europe under the convention, in a working paper known as Penelope. Eight groups sent a letter of President of the European Commission Romano Prodi saying they are "alarmed" by the "potential deterioration" of the requirement for "environmental policy integration" in the new proposals as compared to the existing European Community Treaty.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}