Warning over environment danger from Bolkestein services directive

The EEB, Europe's largest federation of environmental organisations, has issued a warning over the impacts that the proposed services directive could have on the environment.

According to the UK’s DTI, the directive is designed to “improve the free flow of services around the EU in an effort to unlock European businesses potential, increase productivity and job creation and deliver benefits to consumers through greater competition.”

It should “cut excessive red tape that prevents businesses from offering their services across all borders or from opening premises in other Member States.”

However, concern has arisen over one major aspect of the directive, namely the “country of origin principle”. This would mean that a business based in one Member State could provide its services in another Member State, but still obey only the regulations of its home country.

Potentially, this means that a business based in a Member State with lax health and safety rules could operate elsewhere using only the more lax regulations rather than those of the country in which it operates.

While the implications for worker safety are apparent and obvious to most, the EEB has now warned that similar implications could occur with environmental regulations.

For example, a business based in a country with relatively lax environmental rules on, say emissions to air or water, could operate in a country with far tighter regulations yet not have to obey them as it would only have to meet the standards of its home country.

In a letter to Commissioners and members of the European Parliament, the EEB recommends ways of improving environmental considerations within the directive in order to comply with Article 6 of the EC Treaty which requires that all Community policies integrate environmental protection requirements.

“The Commission does not pay attention to the major issue of the directive legalising violations of national environmental laws and policies by foreign service providers and the general undermining impact that it can have on the effectiveness and acceptability of such laws and policies,” John Hontelez EEB Secretary General explained. “Nor does the Commission consider the complications which the ‘country of origin’ principle will have for environmental authorities. Instead of operating in one country, they would have to operate in 25, or more, in order to control the activities of ‘their’ service providers abroad.”

The EEB believes that national, regional and local rules with regards to the protection of people’s health, the environment and biodiversity should be fully respected by anyone operating in that location, irrespective of country of origin.

It concludes that the Directive should fully and systematically exempt from the country of origin principle any legislation or other policy related to the protection and/or improvement of the environment, of biodiversity and of public health.

By David Hopkins

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