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2003 EN Official Journal of the European Union C 110 E/103

(2003/C 110 E/105) WRITTEN QUESTION E-2777/02

by Robert Goebbels (PSE) to the Commission

(3 October 2002)

Subject: Environmental impact directive and the subsidiarity principle

The Commission has recently taken action against France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Austria for failing
to comply with the provisions of the directive on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private
projects on the environment. Whilst such action by the Commission is based on Community texts adopted
in due form, there is increasingly a question mark over whether the environmental impact directive is still
in accordance with the subsidiarity principle. The directive concerned in fact predates the Maastricht
Treaty, which enshrines the principle that the Community ‘shall take action only if and insofar as the
objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States’;

It seems clear to me that local or regional authorities or national parliaments are in a better position than
the Commission to assess the usefulness and the environmental impact of a waste treatment facility, a land
consolidation project or an urban bypass project. In referring such matters to the Court of Justice or in
sending a reasoned opinion to the Member States, the Commission is in general effectively acting as the
instrument of a few local opponents of such projects, who use all kinds of procedures to delay the
construction of infrastructure regarded as necessary by the democratically elected authorities.

Is it not high time that the Commission, as a whole, put an end to this war of litigation, which is contrary
to the public interest as determined by the competent authorities of the Member States concerned, and
submitted proposals for amending the environmental impact directive in order to respect the subsidiarity

Answer given by Mrs Wallström on behalf of the Commission

(8 November 2002)

The Commission has the task of ensuring the correct application of Community law, within the powers
conferred on it by the EC Treaty. On the basis of Article 211 of the EC Treaty, ‘in order to ensure the
proper functioning and development of the common market, the Commission shall ensure that the
provisions of this Treaty and the measures taken by the institutions pursuant thereto are applied’. In the
light of the above, the Commission takes all necessary measures, including infringement procedures under
Article 226 of the EC Treaty, in order to ensure the observance of Community law. The Commission’s
mission under Article 211 of the EC Treaty is not affected by the subsidiarity principle.

In particular, as regards the specific issue raised by the Honourable Member, the Commission agrees that
local authorities are better placed to carry out the assessments about the usefulness of a project or about
its impact on the environment. Only the competent authorities of the Member State are responsible for
carrying out the procedures, assessments and determinations provided for by Council Directive 85/337/
EEC of 27 June 1985 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the
environment (1) whether before or after amendment by Council Directive 97/11/EC of 3 March 1997 (2).
However, the Commission considers itself to be well placed, and entitled, to verify and ensure that these
procedures, assessments and determinations, which are carried out at the appropriate level, are in
compliance with Community law and in particular with Directive 85/337/EEC.

In addition, it may be pointed out that Directive 97/11/EC, which has strenghtened the provisions of
Directive 85/337/EEC, was adopted in March 1997, after ratification or coming into force of the
Maastricht Treaty.

(1) OJ L 175, 5.7.1985.

(2) OJ L 73, 14.3.1997.