In a communication on single market and the environment the Commission criticised the slow development of environmental legislation and stressed the need to make the best possible use of existing legislative instruments to ensure that they are as user-friendly as possible.

The communication describes the principles already in use by the Commission to ensure the free movement of goods and environmental protection, and sums up the Community’s experience to date. It identifies some of the more promising ways in which these two areas of Community policy can strengthen each other, in areas such as standardisation, public contracts, environmental labelling, transport and energy.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the largest federation of environmental organisations in Europe, reacted with disappointment to the launch of the document. It call upon the coming Commission to come with a better document before the big end-of-the-year Helsinki Summit, where Europe’s leaders have to agree on a sustainable development strategy for the coming years.
The Commission says its document suggests a certain number of key initiatives for future progress towards making environmental and economic objectives even more compatible:

  • publish a technical handbook on how Articles 28 to 30 (formerly Articles 30 to 36) of the EC Treaty apply to national environmental measures, with concrete examples based on past experience;
  • publish an interpretative communication clarifying how environmental considerations can be included in public contracts;
  • assess how the proposed environmental measures will help to make the single market work better, based on an appropriate impact assessment and on consultation procedures such as the European Business Test Panel and the Commission’s business impact assessment system; and determine how, in the context of the SLIM initiative and other simplification measures, environmental legislation and administrative procedures can be simplified and made more user-friendly to make the single market work better;
  • update the Commission’s current database on the ecological taxes and duties applied in the single market;
  • adopt a programme, in conjunction with the European standardisation bodies, to gradually integrate environmental considerations into their work, and study the possibility of promoting participation by ecological NGOs in the standardisation process;
  • develop the role of environmental agreements covering the entire EU, along with appropriate consultation procedures, in order to harmonise even further the environmental performance of industry in the single market;
  • enhance, in close co-operation with the competent national authorities, the role and contribution of the programme for awarding the EU’s Community ecological label with regard to the single market;
  • periodically examine the national technical regulations on the environment notified pursuant to Directive 98/34 in order to determine whether harmonisation measures are required;
  • reassess the Community rules on State aids for environmental protection;
  • publish a recommendation on how environmental considerations may be integrated into financial information;
  • take part in the initiatives that will be taken by the Transport and Energy Councils to integrate environmental considerations into transport and energy policy, as decided by the Cardiff European Council;

Lukewarm reception

EEB said that after a year and a half of internal work in the Commission, it expected

a critical analysis of how the EU Single Market, created in 1992, had affected environmental problems. EEB also had expected progressive proposals on how to make sure that the objective of sustainable development and adequate environmental protection would be set on, at least, the same level of priority as the single market. According to EEB “the Communication is only listing a number of future, not ambitious, activities it could undertake”.

John Hontelez, Secretary General of the EEB said: “This document shows that whereas the Commission tries to accommodate environmental interests, it does not want to question the primacy of the internal market. In this way environmental policies of individual member states or local authorities, wanting to go further than what is agreed at EU level, always risk a veto for commercial reasons. Given the persistence and growth of several environmental problems, it is time to realise a real balance between internal market objectives and the protection of the environment”.

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