EU in danger of dumbing down green policy, report warns

All the good environmental work that has been done by the EU over recent years is in danger of being reversed, according to a top-level report published this week.

Environment policy has enjoyed a steady upwards momentum for the past 30 years, but due to changes in the EU, the All-Party Parliamentary Environment Group's report, The Future of EU Environment Policy: Challenges and Opportunities, warns that it may now remain static, or even decline.

The report predicts that: "Environmental measures could become less prescriptive, and possibly more differentiated by Member States."

It adds that a multi-speed environment policy could develop, due to recent developments in Brussels, including:

  • The EU's recent enlargement, and the accession of a large number of countries with relatively poor environmental records
  • The move to the right of the new European Commission
  • The appointment of a new EU Commissioner Group on Competitiveness, as EU industry is seen by some as being hampered by environmental protection legislation
  • The replacement of the green-leaning Margot Wallstrom as EU Environment Commissioner by the centre-right Stavros Dimas, greeted by business organisations as "good news for business"
  • The worsening record of Member States in implementing and adhering to EU environmental legislation

    Given the new focus on deregulation and the emphasis in the EU's current environment action programme on the "untried and potentially woolly" concept of thematic studies, the report also claims that: "poor implementation of EU environmental legislation could be used as an excuse to abandon legislation as the EU's main environment policy instrument."

    "It paints a worrying picture that the emphasis on the environment may be letting up just when we need it to be enhanced," said Norman Baker, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Environment Group. "Nor, in a common market, would it be at all helpful for a two-speed EU in environmental terms to open up."

    As the UK approaches its EU Presidency in the second half of 2005, Prime Minister Tony Blair's approach to environmental policy will be detrimental to determining its direction in the future.

    Most crucial is the climate change issue, which Mr Blair has promised to make a top priority (see related story), particularly while the EU as a whole is currently significantly off course in its efforts to meet Kyoto greenhouse gas reduction targets.

    "Even hardened Eurosceptics recognise the need to legislate cross-border for environmental protection," Mr Baker continued, "conceding that EU action on the environment has improved the quality of life for people in this country."

    By Jane Kettle

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