Representatives of four environmental groups made statements on the issue at a hearing yesterday organised by a committee of the UK's upper legislative chamber, the House of Lords. The committee is conducting an inquiry into the Commission's policy on environmental law implementation and is taking evidence from a range of interested parties.
The Commission produced a communication on the implementation of EU environmental law last October. In the run-up to its publication, Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard said that raising member countries' compliance with EU laws was a top priority. In the event the communication's mildness disappointed many people.
All the environmental groups giving evidence said the Commission should be more open when dealing with complaints against EU member states. Peter Roderick of the London office of Friends of the Earth (FoE) revealed an example of lack of openness relating to a complaint made by FoE (ENDS Daily, 5 February).
Mr Roderick, went on to accuse the Commission of "pussy-footing" instead of acting decisively to improve access to the courts for citizens and environmental groups. He expressed disappointment that the Commission's policy paper recommended no binding standards to improve the effectiveness of national pollution inspectorates.
For the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF), Carol Hatton agreed that improved access to national courts is important, but stressed an equal need for more effective enforcement of laws at EU level by the Commission. Without effective action at EU level, national environmental groups would have to fill in the gaps with limited resources, she said.
A representative of a fourth group, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds called on the Commission to arrange "mediation talks" between pressure groups and EU government representatives before ruling on complaints.
UK Parliament House of Lords EC Select Committee Office, tel: +44 171 219 3015. References: European Commission communication on implementing community environmental law, COM (96) 500.
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