EU parliament defiant over inspections

Environment committee votes for directive on minimum standards, debates environmental crimes

MEPs in the European Parliament have set a collision course with EU governments over minimum standards for environmental inspections of major industrial installations. The assembly's environment committee yesterday voted overwhelmingly to maintain a long-standing demand for a proposed non-binding recommendation on inspections to be upgraded to binding directive status.

Committee chair and rapporteur on the dossier Caroline Jackson said a directive was a "necessary counterpart to all other environmental laws." Ministers should be "ashamed of themselves" for sticking with plans for a "very inadequate" recommendation, she said. The committee's demand was "not a plea for a European environmental inspectorate," she insisted.

If approved by the parliament's plenary session, the stance will launch a conciliation procedure pitting MEPs against not only governments, but also the European Commission and the EU's network of environmental inspectorates Impel, all of which also oppose a directive. Ms Jackson said the parliament should force the issue as the worst outcome could only be to lose a worthless recommendation.

An official from the Commission's environment directorate told the committee it preferred the softer legal route to improving industrial control because it wanted to be "encouraging to those member states without inspection systems." Portugal and Greece are the two EU states with the smallest inspectorates. The former has 14 staff covering the whole country.

* Meanwhile, a separate proposal for an EU law harmonising the treatment and punishment of serious environmental crimes looks to be a long way from reaching the bloc's statute books. Proposed by Denmark last year, the proposal on a framework for combating environmental crime is a so-called "third-pillar" measure negotiated among governments with minimal involvement from the Commission and European Parliament (ENDS Daily 17 February).

Addressing the environment committee, a Commission official said member states' reactions to the proposal had been "not terribly warm" because of the widely diverging criminal legal systems in place throughout the EU. There was "a long way to go" before a coherent approach to criminal environmental law was developed, the official said.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: 284 2111; European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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