DGXI consults on new EU ecolabelling board

Commission to favour more transparency, extra influence for industry, green, groups

Industry and environmental groups could have more influence over the EU's ailing ecolabelling scheme under a revision plan being prepared by the European Commission's environment directorate, DGXI. Officials are developing new approaches for the scheme after EU member states and the European Parliament heaped criticism on the Commission's 1996 proposal to hand administration to an independent organisation (ENDS Daily 18 June).

From two working papers drawn up by DGXI, it seems clear that it has accepted that overall responsibility for the scheme must continue to lie with the Commission. It is now trying to find a new administrative structure that meets demands for the scheme to be made more efficient, democratic and transparent in its selection of product groups and adoption of criteria.

At a "brainstorming" workshop held last Friday, DGXI suggested creating a new EU ecolabelling board on which the Commission and national ecolabelling bodies would be represented, together with a consultative forum comprising industry, NGOs and other stakeholders. The Commission would consult the board on "broad policy issues," such as prioritising product group selection. The board would coordinate "ad-hoc working groups," which would draw up the detailed ecolabel criteria for each product group.

By giving NGOs and industry a place on the EU board, DGXI appears to be trying to address criticisms that the current consultative forum only gives its opinion just before member states vote on product group criteria. This is too late to have any influence according to NGOs and industry. But NGOs say the revised structure will only be an improvement if it is accompanied by EU financing enabling them to participate.

A big question mark hangs over where the real decision-making powers will lie under the new structure. At present, the Commission adopts and publishes ecolabelling criteria after they have been voted on by national experts sitting on a regulatory committee. In case of disagreement, ministers are asked to vote on criteria.

DGXI is now proposing that member states should have a softer "advisory" role, and that the Commission should take a stronger role. Some member states are unhappy with the idea, which they say would mean countries losing "ownership" of the scheme.

Other major changes from the 1996 proposal now backed by DGXI include dropping its insistence that national ecolabelling schemes should offer labels only where an EU label for that product category did not already exist.. It has also dropped the idea of a "graded" ecolabel in place of the current pass/fail approach. The directorate is said to be keen on an idea proposed by the Parliament that the scheme be extended to services as well as products.

A DGXI official expressed hope that a formal Commission proposal to revise the scheme would emerge by the end of the year.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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