Category Archives: European Parliament

Window dressing vs reduced business risks and impacts – which to choose?

Companies have impacts – on people, on the environment – some positive, some negative. Sometimes the negative impacts become very obvious and very negative – for example when a textile factory in Bangladesh collapses. Sometimes the impacts are less visible, displacement of people from their land, discharge of toxic chemicals, or exploitation of fossil fuels.

There are many way of addressing these impacts, including direct legislation, standards & labelling. One approach that sounds promising at first sight – but is yet to really deliver – is company reporting: Continue reading


A more democratic EU? Stop government secrecy!

In UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s EU speech this week he talked of the need to increase the EU’s “democratic accountability”.

One little known fact is that the most secretive and undemocratic piece of the EU is actually ‘Council’, EU Governments (Member States) – including the UK – getting together to decide their view on EU laws.

Council is one of the two decision making bodies of the EU, see this page for a quick explanation, the other being the European Parliament – the European Commission only proposes legislation.

For example, look at this document on the Council’s web site, where the main content of the document is:


And this is not some obscure piece of legislation. This is the negotiations on a new law that would force European mining companies to disclose what they are paying governments around the world, part of a global campaign on transparency – see the “Publish What You Pay” campaign site for more details.

There are thousands of censored documents on the Council web site, many saying useful things like “one Member State said” “Several Member States said”. Governments around Europe are hiding what they are doing at EU level.

So, the electorate is not permitted to see what governments are up to. Sometimes complete documents – or rumours – leak out, but it is a closed, secretive process. These leaks probably also go more often to industry interests than to civil society ones.

Contrast this with the elected EU parliament, where you can see who tables which amendments, and where votes are open & often available in full (‘roll call votes’). This detailed information enables people like VoteWatch and environmental groups to monitor exactly what each MEP is up to. VoteWatch also tries to analyse government voting patterns, but its only data is the formal votes that happen at the end of a process, not the real debate on what governments will or won’t accept.

So is David Cameron’s ‘reform’ plan going to include openness for council?

Will the UK take a unilateral decision to open up all of its negotiation documents?

Let’s wait and see…

Commission nominees give written responses to Parliament’s questions

Next week in Brussels the European Parliament’s committees will be cross-examining the nominees for the new Commission – the timetable is here. The Parliament has sent written questions to the nominees already, and has now published their responses on their Hearings web site.

The Environment nominee Janez Potočnik says in his response that his “three priorities .. would be promoting a green economy, halting the loss of biodiversity and implementing and improving existing environmental legislation.”

He also puts a welcome emphasis on the importance of making Europe more resource efficient, which is a priority for my work at Friends of the Earth (see our Resources & Consumption campaign web page for more info):

Resource efficiency will be a critical component of any strategy to protect our environment and enhance our competitiveness. It will mean putting in place the right mix of smart regulation, incentives and market-based mechanisms to foster eco-innovation and sustainable consumption and production, finding ways to promote the changes needed which fully respect our levels of environmental ambition. This will include presenting action plans for eco- innovation, environmental technologies and the next phase of Sustainable Consumption and Production to make the EU more resource efficient.

He also acknowledges that environmental policy is not about selecting one “silver bullet” – ‘If we are to achieve ambitious environmental objectives, we must act on many policy fronts.’

Welcome pack for Environment Committee MEPs, briefing documents on climate policy

The Institute for European Environmental Policy’s (IEEP) latest newsletter is full of interesting stuff, including links to a couple of projects involving training MEPs, and stories on EU land use, sustainable development indicators & promoting the importance of biodiversity:

The first training project is a set of briefing documents on climate policy, aimed at MEPs and assistants (they are also running a training programme):

The second is a welcome package for new MEPs on the Environment Committee, which summarises legislative progress in the last parliament, identifies some priorities for the next & lists upcoming implementation and review dates for legislation:

Barroso wins the Parliament’s vote – though without great enthusiasm

The European Parliament has today voted for Barroso to be the Commission president – 382 MEPs voted for him, 219 against and 117 abstained – which was enough to give him the job, but clearly also shows a considerable level of opposition, reflected by the quotes in this BBC story.

The next step in creating a new line-up of European Commissioners is on hold until after the Irish vote again on the LIsbon treaty on 2nd October. At some point after this vote (whatever the outcome), Barroso will start to put together the team of 26 other Commissioners, using the people nominated by EU governments. The European Parliament will then get a chance to question and vote on these nominees.

Barroso approaches his big Parliament vote tomorrow

Tomorrow (Wednesday 16th) the European Parliament will vote on whether to give the Commission president José Manuel Barroso a second term. EU governments have already supported him, but some political groups in the Parliament – notably the Greens – have been rather less keen. There’s no obvious alternative candidate though….

As part of his campaign for the job, Barroso has unveiled his own five year plan (covered by Euractiv here) for the European Commission.

The plan contains some general statements about climate change and sustainability, e.g. “We need to start working now on a radical pathway to reaching a far more sustainable Europe by 2020”, but the European Environment Bureau have criticised the narrow focus of his proposals in a letter to MEPs:

‘Despite being a subject of prime concern, the EEB warns that the sustainability issue moves far beyond that of climate change.

“If consumption patterns of people in all societies in the world would be at the same level of EU consumers, we would need almost three planets to provide the resources and neutralise the resulting pollution.” Wrote John Hontelez, Secretary General of the EEB, the largest federation of European environmental NGOs; “The EU requires a more holistic resource efficiency approach.’

Barroso himself took part in what sounds like quite a heated debate with the green group, as reported by EUObserver:

They should have sold tickets to this wrestling match, and offered popcorn and hot dogs in the committee room. The standing-room-only chamber in the European Parliament was filled with reporters, MEPs, their assistants and anyone who wanted to see that rarest of Brussels events – an out-and-out political brawl.

“Look, you’re already totally against me,” Mr Barroso responded. “I don’t understand that …The Greens are amongst the most pro-European of parties and there is a convergence between us on many questions: climate change, energy, fundamental rights …But even before this discussion, you have decided: ‘Stop Barroso!'”

German MEP Rebecca Harms, the co-president of the Green group alongside Mr Cohn-Bendit, reacted: “I’m sorry to say this, but whether you are a lame duck or not, this is an opinion which is not decided in three months, but a position that the public has already taken.”

There are even – at this late stage – proposals for alternative ‘fall back’ candidates, as reported by the Economist:

WITH a deliciously malicious sense of timing, the French daily, Le Monde, has lobbed a rock into the Brussels duckpond this morning, reporting that the French prime minister François Fillon would be prepared to step in as the centre-right candidate for boss of the European Commission, if the incumbent, José Manuel Barroso, cannot pull off a necessary vote of approval in the European Parliament.

What’s the Parliament’s Environment committee done in the last 5 years?

If you want to know what the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Health and Food Safety have done in the last 5 years (‘The 6th Parliamentary Term’), they have produced a 189 page (!!) activity report

The report demonstrates the importance of this committee, as it led the Parliament’s discussion for almost 1/4 of all codecision laws passed by the parliament:

[Codecision = Parliament and Council must reach agreement, Consultation = Parliament can comment, but Council decides]

During the 6th parliamentary term, the Environment Committee was responsible as a lead committee for 172 procedures. This figure includes both legislative (114 co-decision procedures, 16 consultation procedures) and nonlegislative (38 initiative reports and several comitology-related procedures) procedures. Over 200 reports were adopted. …

Of 114 co-decision (COD) procedures, 96 were successfully concluded by a final vote of the 6th European Parliament. Those 96 procedures represent almost one quarter of the total of the approximately 400 co-decision procedures which were successfully concluded by the 6th Parliament.

Co-decision procedures were concluded at the following stages:

o 9 procedures were concluded at 3rd reading (=9.4%)

o 28 were concluded at 2nd reading (=29.3%)

o 59 were concluded at 1st reading (=61.3%)

I hadn’t realised was quite how many procedures are agreed at ‘First Reading’ – i.e. an agreement is reached between Parliament and Member State governments early in the process, rather the two sides disagreeing at the first reading and compromising on the second reading, or even the third reading (conciliation).