Shake up for EU's environmental engine room

Commission's environment department to be remodelled on lines of sixth action programme

The European Commission's environment directorate-general (DG) is to be restructured along the lines of the forthcoming sixth environmental action programme (6EAP) (ENDS Daily 17 October), it has emerged. The changes are also being seen as signalling a greater openness to industry concerns by the EU's central environmental policy making body.

The apparent shift in DG environment's attitude towards industry is exemplified by two key personnel changes. In one of them, controversial waste policy unit head Ludwig Krämer, who has championed "hard" legislative approaches during his five years in the post, is to be moved to a new environmental governance unit. The plan has sparked protests from environmental groups and some of his own staff, but sighs of relief from industry groups.

Waste issues are to be resited within in a broader sustainable consumption and waste unit, to be headed by Marianne Klingbeil, who is claimed to be far more pro-business than Mr Krämer and who currently works on voluntary instruments. Ms Klingbeil wrote the strongly pro-industry speech given by EU environment commissioner Margo Wallström on Tuesday (ENDS Daily 30 November), according to sources. Her new appointment is also politically sensitive because she is married to the administrative head of DG environment's sister department for industrial policy, DG enterprise.

This is the most radical restructuring for DG Environment for five years and the first under the department's current administrative chief, Jim Currie, and his political boss Ms Wallström. The first clear idea of Mr Currie's plans emerged earlier this week, setting the Brussels "goldfish bowl" alight with speculation and comment. A slightly revised version has now gone to the Commission's administrative services for final approval, according to a reliable source.

All five of the DG's policy making directorates are to be renamed and restructured to varying extents under the plan, which is expected to take effect on 1 February. Reflecting the now extensively trailed structure of next year's 6EAP, they include creation of a powerful new environment and health directorate, another for sustainable development and a reshaped natural resources directorate (see below for full details).

While Ms Wallström is likely to sell the reshuffle as modernisation in line with the 6EAP, sources say it was initially forced by the loss of virtually all DG environment's responsibilities for nuclear safety issues to Loyola de Palacio's energy and transport DG. The transfer was agreed earlier this year and coincidentally took effect today. It has threatened to leave DG environment with one less directorate, potentially reducing its status within the Commission. The restructuring plan makes the numbers back up.

Personalities have also played a role in the restructuring plan, and several changes at directorate or unit head level are exciting comment among Brussels insiders. Chief amongs these are the contrasting fortunes of Ludwig Krämer and Marianne Klingbeil, plus effective demotions for three other officials: Ruth Frommer, Georges Kremlis and Bruno Julien.

Mr Krämer's move from waste to environmental governance is undoubtedly the star turn. Industry groups have long lobbied for the German lawyer to have his wings clipped, incensed by his very often successful attempts to impose strict, legislative controls and to force producers to pay for waste management. Business also claims that a failure of management control by industry and environment directorate chief Ruth Frommer has given Mr Krämer too much room for manouevre.

But Mr Krämer's efforts have equally won him praise and admiration from others, including some EU governments, environmental groups and his own staff. Twenty of them have underlined their frustration at what they consider to be a demotion by sending a letter of protest to Ms Wallström, a copy of which ENDS Daily has seen.

Mr Krämer has an "unrivalled grip" on the political context of EU legislation, the officials say. "We...have appreciated his commitment to the job and to European integration as well as his knowledge.... Some of us came to Brussels expressly to work with him and benefit from his experience."

Backing Mr Krämer's emphasis on "hard" legislation to achieve environmental improvements, the officials also express deep concern at the proposed shift of waste issues into a broader integrated product policy and consumption unit. "We are concerned that the approach taken so far in the field of IPP is to promote voluntary agreements with industry and "soft" legislation at EU level," they write.

The officials accept that many types of policy instruments are necessary, but stress that any changes "should not be detrimental to the solid legal framework which...has played a big role in diminishing the impacts of waste on the environment." The proposed changes "would neither be understood by member states nor by stakewholders" and would put at risk both past achievements and new policies still in the pipeline, they claim.

Environmental group Greenpeace has also joined the battle. In its own protest letter to Ms Wallström, it blames Mr Krämer's transfer on "extreme lobby pressure from industry" over issues such as the EU's definition of waste, which the Commission has successfully maintained in the face of a series of legal actions brought by industry.

The group praises Mr Krämer for having "brought about a major change in EU environmental protection" by championing of producer responsibility as well as legislative initiatives including the landfill directive, the end-of-life vehicles directive, amendments to the waste shipments regulation and the draft waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) directive. "Industry must be having parties," commented Greenpeace's Axel Singhofen.

Industry groups do indeed appear to be highly relieved by Mr Krämer's departure from the EU waste policy scene. "He has been an obstacle to seeing things in a broader sense," said one, who claimed that an "entrenched bureaucracy" had developed in DG environment, and especially in the waste unit. "The tail was wagging the dog," he claimed.

The sense of relief is not universal however, with at least one old policy hand suggesting that industry joy at Mr Krämer's departure could be short lived. "There have been attempts to take the hardliners out in the past," said EU lobbyist Bob Schmitz, "and the result was that those left became even more radical".

Mr Schmitz noted also that there was a risk of a repeat of Mr Krämer's last move within DG environment, five years ago, when he was ejected from the legal department and sent to deal with waste issues. The motivation, according to several sources, was to appease member states aggrieved by what they saw as his over-zealous attempts to prosecute them for failures in environmental law compliance. "I believe this will be considered again as unjustified punishment and could backfire," said Mr Schmitz.

If the reason for Mr Krämer's new transfer really is to stop him from causing trouble, it remains unclear whether the gambit will work, because he will have some important new dossiers under his control, in particular civil liability for environmental damage and the precautionary principle.

Both dossiers are felt by Mr Currie to be "pretty well constrained," according to one source, by the fact that the Commission has already produced a white paper on liability (ENDS Daily 9 February) and a communication on the precautionary principle (ENDS Daily 2 February). However, both issues have also proved hugely controversial, have potentially immense industrial implications, and remain far from played out.

DG environment's planned new administrative structure is as follows. Readers should note that this information is based on a 27 November draft, which is understood to have undergone further minor amendments before being sent for approval.

Overall highlights include operational responsibility for directorates C and D by deputy head of DG environment's Jean-François Verstrynge rather than Mr Currie. In addition, eight units in various directorates are designated as "integration" contact points for other Commission departments. This could mark a reinforcement of DG environment efforts to support the EU's "Cardiff" process of integrating environmental considerations into sectoral policy making (ENDS Daily 13 December 1999).

Directorate A - Sustainable Development:

Sustainable Development is to be based mainly on the existing directorate for integration policy and environmental instruments, whose director, Grant Lawrence, will also head the new department. It will also take over inter-institutional affairs from the current general and international affairs directorate.

Its other units include consumption and waste, headed by Marianne Klingbeil, and environmental governance, headed by Ludwig Krämer. A fourth unit will focus on "knowledge-based approaches," economics, indicators and relationships with the European Environment Agency.

Directorate B - Natural Resources:

The directorate is based largely on the existing directorate for environmental quality and natural resources, but loses responsibility for environmental quality to the new environment and health directorate. Its director is to be the current head of environmental quality and natural resources, Prudencio Perera.

Four units will work under the natural resources directorate: one for water and the marine environment (to be the integration contact point for fisheries), one for nature, soil and biodiversity (also the integration contact point for agriculture and forestry), one for land use and environmental impact assessment (also the integration contact point for regional policy and tourism) and finally a civil protection unit, which will also deal with environmental accidents legislation such as the Seveso II directive and which used to sit in the nuclear safety directorate.

Directorate C - Environment and Health:

This is in some ways the largest innovation in Mr Currie's reshuffle, and reflects directly a key political priority of Ms Wallström and a central element of the forthcoming 6EAP. It remains unknown who will head the directorate.

Its first unit will deal with air and noise, incineration and VOCs and will be the integration contact point on transport issues and is "potentially powerful" according to one EU policy watcher. Another unit will deal with radiation protection.

Two units will deal with chemicals issues, one focused on biotechnology, endocrine disrupters and dioxins (which will also be the integration contact point for health issues) and the other more broadly on chemicals, pesticides and biocides. Industry groups are disappointed that Mr Curries has not made a single unit for chemicals: "It doesn't make sense," one said. However, Commission sources stressed that the new system simply carries over an existing split between two different units in the current industry and environment directorate rather than creating a new one.

Directorate D - Implementation and Enforcement

Directorate D will be a cut down version of the current industry and environment directorate, and the rout is being seen as punishment for existing and new leader Ruth Frommer, who is widely accused of being ineffective. Responsibility for hazardous industrial installations, biotechnology, waste and chemicals are all to be stripped.

A unit on industry and implementation will deal with the integrated pollution prevention and control directive (IPPC), the EMAS environmental management scheme, ecolabelling, standardisation and public procurement. It will also be the integration contact point for internal market issues. The unit is to be headed by Herbert Aichinger, who currently has responsibility for air quality, urban environment, noise, transport and energy in the environmental quality and natural resources directorate.

Another unit will deal with legal implementation and enforcement, representing a loss of responsibility for unit head Georges Kremlis, who currently also has a wider responsibility for legal affairs. A third unit will have responsibility exclusively for the "Life" funding scheme, its head Bruno Julien thus losing his current responsibilities for nature protection.

Directorate E - Global Issues and International Affairs

Though it has a new name, this directorate will in fact be very similar to the existing directorate for general and international affairs, apart from losing responsibility for inter-institutional relations to the new sustainable development directorate. The directorate's existing chief Fernand Thurmes is set to keep his post. Its three units are to see virtually no changes.

A unit on climate change and the ozone layer will also be the integration contact point for energy issues. The international affairs and trade and environment unit will be the integration contact point for trade issues. The third unit will deal with development and environment issues, including the Mediterranean region.

Follow Up:
European Commission DG environment, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and current administrative structure.

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