NGOs attack EU Commission restructuring plan

New look for environment directorate would dismantle key services, undermine law implementation, say groups

European environmental groups today stepped up pressure against a planned restructuring of the European Commission's environment directorate general (DG), describing it as a "Counter-Reformation".

The NGOs particularly object to proposed changes to DG environment units responsible for waste and nature protection policies. They claim the new arrangements will weaken policy making capacity in these areas while giving the lie to EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström's professed desire to improve member states' implementation of EU environment laws.

Details of the proposed revamp were widely leaked in late November. It is the largest administrative change in DG environment for at least five years and will refocus the department around priorities in the forthcoming sixth environmental action programme (ENDS Daily 1 December).

Greenpeace's key concern is a proposal to subsume policy making on waste within a new sustainable development and integrated product policy unit, combined with associated personnel changes (see ENDS Daily 1 December for more). The plan represented "a worrying shift away from public interest policies to industry self-regulation," said the group's Axel Singhofen.

Miguel Naveso of Birdlife International focused on the planned break-up of the current nature protection unit, which will retain responsibility only for the "Life" funding programme, while implementation of the EU's habitats and birds directives will be overseen elsewhere. The unit's success had depended on integration of these aspects, said Mr Naveso. "If the Commission separates the stick from the carrot it puts the whole Natura 2000 project at risk".

The environmental groups acknowledged that the restructuring plan had already been forwarded from DG environment to the Commission hierarchy for approval, but insisted on the need to maintain political pressure on Ms Wallström. They revealed that they had requested an urgent meeting with her about the proposals, which had been turned down.

Follow Up:
Greenpeace EU unit, tel: +32 2 280 1400; Birdlife International EU office, tel: +32 2 280 0830.

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