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9.3.

98 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 73/103

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Council Regulation
(EC) amending Regulation (EEC) No 1210/90 of 7 May 1990 on the establishment of the
European Environment Agency and the European environment information and observation
network’

(98/C 73/25)

On 11 July 1997 the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under
Article 130s of the Treaty establishing the European Union, on the above-mentioned proposal.
The Section for Protection of the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Affairs, which
was responsible for preparing the Committee’s work on the subject, adopted its opinion on
4 November 1997. The rapporteur was Mrs Sánchez Miguel.
At its 350th plenary session (meeting of 11 December 1997) the Economic and Social Committee
adopted the following opinion by 93 votes to one.

1. Introduction 1.4. The Commission’s overall assessment is that the


Agency has made significant progress, especially with
regard to the publication of reports, but is still at the
1.1. The Commission document evaluates the teething stage insofar as the operation of national
achievements of the European Environment Agency in networks providing information about different environ-
the light of the objectives laid down when the Agency mental areas is concerned.
was first set up (1), concentrating chiefly on its function
of gathering and disseminating information. In so doing
it underlines the importance of the Agency’s publication 1.5. In view of this performance the Commission
in 1995 of two reports on the state of the environment: considers that the Agency should not be given new tasks
the ‘Dobris Assessment’ and the report contributing to at the moment and feels that its terms of reference
the ‘Review of the 5th Environment Action Pro- should only be reviewed after the evaluation of its
gramme’ (2). activities in 2003.

1.1.1. We would also emphasize the Agency’s role in


establishing the EIONET information network (3) for 2. Relations between the ESC and the Agency
gathering environmental information across the Mem-
ber States. This has been accompanied by the establish-
ment of nine European Topic Centres (ETCs) (4) provid- 2.1. The Committee has already stressed the urgent
ing, inter alia, objective data for the network. need to create a transnational Environmental Agency,
believing that it represents a quantum leap compared
with the coordination mechanisms set up in the 1980s
1.2. As part of this information function, the Agency to provide European-level information on the state of
has also promoted the inclusion of European environ- the environment. In its earlier opinion on the creation
mental data in international environment monitoring of the Agency (6), the ESC underlined the importance of
programmes, with concrete results in the form of the contribution such an Agency could make to aligning
agreements with WHO, UNEP and UNECE (5). national instruments and operational methods and to
strengthening international cooperation in the field of
1.3. Another of the tasks launched by the Agency — environmental protection, particularly in respect of the
role the European Union could play in international
and one that has achieved important practical success
fora and in providing technical support and advice to
in its earliest stage — has been to stimulate the
development of environmental forecasting techniques the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and to the
and methods of assessing the cost of damage to the developing countries.
environment and the costs of environmental policies
themselves. 2.2. In this same opinion the Committee called for
assurances that all the various socio-economic interests
would be actively involved, saying that it wanted to see
(1) Regulation (EEC) of the Council No 1210/1990, OJ L 120, the Agency not only operating under the aegis of the
11.5.1990 — ESC Opinion, OJ C 56, 7.3.1990. Commission but also responding to the needs of Member
(2) OJ C 140, 11.5.1996. States and especially ordinary citizens. To this end,
(3) European Environment Information and Observation Net- thought should be given to appropriate forms of cooper-
work.
(4) ETCs: atmospheric emissions, air quality, catalogue of ation with non-governmental bodies operating in the
databases, inland waters, land cover, marine environment, environmental sector and with technical and scientific
nature conservation, soil quality and waste management. institutions at both national and European level.
(5) World Health Organization, United Nations Environment
Programme, United Nations Economic Commission for
Europe. (6) OJ C 56, 7.3.1990.
C 73/104 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 9.3.98

2.2.1. The need to guarantee such involvement is of 3.1.1. What is needed is an assessment which takes
paramount importance in the context of the Vth Action into consideration the added value which can be provided
Programme on the Environment which underlines the by the Agency once the initial start-up phase has
shared responsibility of all players. been completed, especially in terms of harmonizing
data-collection methods and bringing about synergistic
effects between the Member States within the context
2.3. Delays in getting the Agency off the ground have of thematic networks, not to speak of its work in
been repeatedly criticized by the ESC, most notably in evaluating environmental incidents.
1992 when commenting on the programme of sustainable
development (1).
3.1.2. Any evaluation of the Agency’s performance
must also take account of the short period in which the
2.4. The Committee has maintained regular contacts Agency has been in operation and of the resources made
with the Agency since its launch in Copenhagen, available to it. The reports published to date, along with
participating in its initiatives, making use of the infor- the databases, are all of great value to the different
mation and reports it has provided, and drawing on the Community organizations and to economic and social
help of its experts on specific subjects, particularly those interest groups. Furthermore, the Agency’s staff has
relating to opinions being drawn up in the fields of always proved ready and willing to cooperate and to
water and waste. provide information about the Agency’s tasks to any
organizations wishing to obtain such information, as
the ESC has itself experienced on several occasions.
2.5. On such occasions, as well as in section dis-
cussions (2) with the Agency’s Director, members of the
Committee have never failed to emphasize the need to 3.2. The ESC approves the activities of the Agency
broaden the activities of the Agency and involve different and agrees that its tasks should be consolidated along
players and ordinary citizens more closely. the lines set out by the Commission. The ESC, however,
also hopes that the Agency’s work on gathering and
2.6. More recently, when drawing up the opinion on disseminating information will be expanded — and not
eco-labels, the ESC developed a fruitful dialogue with only for the benefit of the Commission and the Member
the Agency on the possibility of the latter providing States but for all other community and social interests
support for the scheme(3), particularly by assembling in the EU. If information is ultimately fed through to
information necessary for an analysis of the life-cycle of ordinary citizens, it should be available in the official
products. The ESC therefore hopes that the Agency will languages of the EU, which means releasing the required
be actively involved in the eco-label scheme although it funds.
rules out any administrative role for the Agency on the
grounds that this is not one of its inherent functions.
3.3. A number of other activities need to be broadened
so that a ‘strategic’ evaluation of the environment can
2.7. Last but not least, the information about the be carried out and the EU’s environmental situation can
Agency on the Internet, although restricted to the English be monitored, as called for in the ESC’s opinion on
language, has proved to be a useful benchmark in the Action Programme for integrated groundwater
drawing up opinions and holding debates about environ- protection and management (4), and so that the Agency
mental protection. can more effectively support the European Union in its
involvement in cross-frontier and international organ-
izations specializing in protection of the environment.
3. General comments
3.3.1. The ESC considers that the Agency should
have a distinct role within this cross-frontier context,
3.1. In view of the Agency’s positive contribution, namely that of establishing forms of cooperation with
as referred to above, and the permanent need for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEECs)
increasingly accurate and standardized information on preparing to join the EU so that it is easier for them
the state of the environment in Europe, the Committee to acquire the information needed to update their
feels that the Commission’s conclusion spelt out in point environmental legislation. According to the latest Com-
4 of the introduction and stating that ‘it would not be mission studies, this is of fundamental importance for
appropriate to add major new tasks at this stage in its their integration into the EU.
development’ is excessively conservative and seems
to be governed largely by financial considerations,
especially since point 5 goes on to say that ‘no new 3.4. As far as the integration of environmental protec-
financial resources will be made available’. tion in other Community policies is concerned, the
Committee considers that the Agency can serve a useful
purpose by giving technical support to all departments
(1) Point 7.4.2, OJ C 287, 4.11.1992.
with responsibilities in the environmental field, bearing
(2) Appendix to the minutes of the 176th meeting of the
Section for Protection of the Environment, Public Health
and Consumer Affairs, held on 3 March 1995.
(3) Point 3.3.1.10, OJ C 296, 29.9.1997. (4) OJ C 355, 25.11.1996 — ESC Opinion, OJ C 89, 19.3.1997.
9.3.98 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 73/105

in mind the revision carried out in Amsterdam of function of providing support for the collection of
Article 130, and especially Article 3 which introduces information, that reference should be made in para-
the concept of making environmental policy an integral graph (ii) to ‘standard models for gathering information’
part of all Community policies and actions at both as this would be a way of harmonizing the information
the planning and implementation stages. Particular Member States are required to submit.
attention should be paid to coordination with DG
XII since the lines of investigation pursued in this
directorate-general are closely linked to environmental 4.2.3. The Committee also feels that non-state organ-
questions and in many cases to draft environmental izations (NGOs, trade unions, consumer organizations,
legislation. The regulation in question also already etc.) should be involved in the new information tasks
provides for cooperation between the Agency and the assigned to the Agency. Similarly, the organizations
Joint Research Centre. This cooperation should be responsible for environmental policy at different levels
consolidated and greater synergies achieved between the of national administration should also have the right to
work of the bodies; overlapping activities would have request information from the agency.
to be avoided and the flow of information on clean
technologies, and on products stemming from research
carried out in conjunction with industry, would have to 4.2.4. The new wording of Article 2 (ii) would also
reduce the independence of the Agency by moving away
be fully taken advantage of.
from the original ‘provide ... the objective information
necessary’ to the proposed ‘provide the objective infor-
3.5. On the other hand, the ESC would emphasize mation they require’. The ESC therefore calls for the
that no way has yet been found of guaranteeing the original text to be kept.
involvement of the EU’s socio-economic organizations
(and particularly NGOs and consumer representatives)
in the Agency. A greater openness on the part of the 4.2.5. The Commission proposes that the phrase ‘to
Agency towards socio-economic organizations would establish a repository of information on the environment’
hold out the prospect of promising developments in be inserted at the beginning of point (iii); such a
parallel with the programme on sustainable development repository would be tantamount to setting up a European
which provides for the involvement of all players active information centre. The ESC, repeating here the requests
in environmental protection. made time and time again in previous opinions, considers
that this should take the form of a Public Register
3.6. In this context the ESC welcomes the recent accessible to all persons and organizations interested in
initiative to engage in a wider consultation, involving environmental information. The Committee therefore
NGOs operating in the environmental sector, industry, calls for the inclusion of a new point (xiv) in Article 2,
trade unions, the various Commission Directorates- reading as follows: ‘to take responsibility for a register
General which have environmental responsibilities, the of information obligatory under environmental laws.’
European Parliament, the Economic and Social Com-
mittee and the Committee of the Regions, on the
Agency’s second work programme, covering the 1999- 4.2.6. The new paragraph (vi) of Article 2 stipulates
2003 period. The Committee recommends that consul- that the Agency shall draw up a report on ‘the state of
tations of this type should be formalized on a regular the environment’ every five years. The ESC urges that
footing, and should also cover more specific aspects of the bracketed words (prospects and trends), be added
the Agency’s work. after ‘the state of the environment’ to introduce a note
of dynamism to the report. The ESC also considers that
since the environmental situation changes rapidly the
4. Examination of the proposed amendments ‘annual indicator reports’ should be linked to the
multiannual report of the Scientific Committee in order
4.1. The amendments proposed by the Commission to give them a sound scientific basis.
are of two types: one type deals with the broadening
and consolidation of the information function of the
Agency via amendments to Articles 2 and 4; the other is 4.2.7. The words ‘in its own language’ should be
concerned with the workings of the Management Board. added after ‘the general public’ in the proposed new
paragraph (xi) of Article 2.
4.2. Article 2 — Broadening of the functions of the
Agency 4.2.8. A reference should also be made to ‘the strategic
or integrated environmental assessment’ in the proposed
4.2.1. The Committee by and large considers that the new point (xii) of Article 2, in accordance with the
new functions assigned to the Agency are a move in the proposed directive on the assessment of the effects of
right direction. This is because they strengthen the certain plans and programmes on the environment (1).
Agency’s role in the field of information, particularly
through the proposal laying down requirements govern-
ing the presentation of reports. 4.2.9. The Committee also calls for the inclusion in
Article 2 of a point (xv) reading as follows: ‘to contribute
4.2.2. Nevertheless, other organizations, e.g. the
Council, Parliament and ESC, should also have the right
to request information from the Agency. The Committee
likewise considers, in connection with the Agency’s (1) OJ C 129, 25.4.1997; OJ C 287, 22.9.1997.
C 73/106 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 9.3.98

to the collection of information and the dissemination Committee and the Committee of the Regions. It is
of results in cooperation with the European eco-label a matter of formalizing forms of cooperation and
scheme.’ consultation which already exist but which need to be
recognized in the regulation governing the Agency.
4.2.10. Finally, some of the original text of the
amended Article 20, i.e. the part referring to the 4.4.2. Nor does the Committee have any objection to
Agency being ‘associated in the monitoring of the the creation of an executive bureau designed to speed
implementation of Community environmental legis- up and facilitate the work of the management board,
lation, in cooperation with the Commission and existing but it would recommend that the membership of such a
competent bodies in the Member States’ should be bureau be balanced in terms of the interests represented,
incorporated in Article 2. including the NGOs.

4.3. Article 4 — Responsibilities of the network 5. Conclusions

4.3.1. It is important that national networks be fully 5.1. Looking at the points made above and taking into
and properly established and that they feed through the consideration the proposed changes, we can conclude in
data which enables Member States to fulfil their task of general that the Agency will become more independent
providing the Agency with information. The proposal and efficient and this in turn will make it an instrument
to add a second sub-paragraph to paragraph 2 of attuned to the new environmental policy direction
Article 4 is therefore welcomed in that it tightens the worked out in Amsterdam.
obligation on Member States to provide the necessary
information. 5.1.1. If the work of the Agency is to be brought
closer to all citizens of the EU, the Agency will first have
4.3.2. The ESC is aware that in some cases national to be broadened to ensure that organizations reflecting
networks have not yet been fully developed, which citizens’ interests are represented on it, whilst efforts
creates difficulties in trying to establish an overall will also have to be made to establish a balance on the
framework for the provision of information. It would Management Board. Secondly, its publications will have
therefore help if the Agency could draw attention to to become more accessible by appearing in all the
these deficiencies by means of an inventory of networks languages of the Community, the funding being shared
so that the Commission and Member States in question between public and private bodies in each Member
could look at ways of overcoming the problem. Financial State.
support for this operation could come from the Cohesion
Fund. 5.1.2. It is necessary to make the Agency a vehicle
for the integration of all policies with environmental
repercussions and to this end it needs to work together
4.4. Article 8 — Management Board not only with the Commission, but also with all bodies
active in the environment. Its advisory function can
4.4.1. The ESC is favourably disposed to the idea of similarly be put to use with the enlargement of the EU
allowing European Economic Area representatives to sit in mind.
on the Management Board. Nevertheless, in line with
its previous opinion on the Agency (1), it calls for Article 8 5.1.3. As far as the Agency’s functions are concerned,
to include a reference to the need to consult the various we would urge that it be given responsibilities for
socio-economic actors on the multiannual programme carrying out a ‘strategic or integrated environmental
(paragraph 4), for ways to be found to ensure that such assessment’ and for performing the task, in conjunction
consultation takes place on a regular basis, if possible with the Commission, of monitoring implementation of
including in the Management Board an expert rep- the Community’s environmental legislation.
resenting the NGOs working in the environmental
sector, and for the annual report (paragraph 6) to 5.2. All this will only be possible if the Agency
be officially forwarded to the Economic and Social receives funding commensurate with its functions. We
should therefore look into the possibility of the Agency
being given its own budget so that future budget
(1) OJ C 56, 7.3.1990. increases do not have to be borne by DG XI.

Brussels, 11 December 1997.

The President
of the Economic and Social Committee
Tom JENKINS