José Manuel Barroso’s top official, Catherine Day, is pressuring environment commissioner Janez Potočnik to delay bringing forward new proposals in a number of areas. Apparently Ms Day believes that the commission’s work should currently be focussed on “growth and the euro”. She and Barroso must be of the puzzingly illogical opinion that one can have an economy focusing on “growth and the euro”, without paying attention to the degradation of the natural environment which supports it. Whether or not you agree that growth is desirable this just doesn’t make sense: It’s like saying “I’m not going to sort my cardiac problems as it’s much more important for me to run in the upcoming marathon”.
By Regina Schneider, Head of Communications and Enforcement co-ordinator of the European Environment Bureau (EEB).
José Manuel Barroso’s top official is pressuring environment commissioner Janez Potočnik to delay bringing forward new proposals in a number of areas, ENDS has learned.
The head of the EU civil service, commission secretary general Catherine Day, has blocked a legislative proposal to cut the use of plastic bags.
Mr Potočnik will next week only be able to bring forward a green paper on plastic waste but no specific proposals on plastic bags, which are non-biodegradable and often end up in waterways and in the sea.
Ms Day is also behind the delayed publication of a long-promised green paper on the sustainable management of phosphorous.
In addition, she wants the commissioner to postpone proposals on green infrastructure, moving “beyond GDP” as an economic indicator and environmental inspections, a commission official said.
The disagreement centres on Ms Day’s belief that the commission’s work should currently be focussed on “growth and the euro”, he explained.
“The focus is on the economy and jobs. Other things can wait,” the official said, adding that the problem is not unique to environmental issues.
The secretary general can effectively block proposals from any branch of the commission by preventing them from being put to inter-service consultation.
MEPs are increasingly concerned about the high number of environmental proposals promised in the commission work programmes for 2011 and 2012 and in the periodic rolling programmes that remain unpublished.
The chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee, German MEP Matthias Groote, has written to both Mr Barroso and Mr Potočnik to warn that these “substantial delays” could make it impossible for any of the proposals to be finalised during the current parliamentary term, which expires in June 2014.
Mr Potočnik replied that he was “committed to improving [the] body of legislation, but particularly to ensuring that it is fully and properly implemented”.
Speaking at the environment committee earlier this week, he confirmed that the commission was working on proposals on invasive species and endrocine disrupters. Mr Barroso has not yet replied to the letter.
Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy of the liberal ALDE group said many in Brussels were unconvinced by the arguments coming from top EU officials that this is not a good time for new environmental measures. Stronger environment policies are “especially needed now, when we are trying to refocus our economy”, he said.
A spokesman said the commission is “often obliged to prioritise between the many proposals made by all of the directorates-general”, adding that “the treatment of some dossiers can therefore sometimes be delayed”.
“As with any policy area, there will always be some who regard action [on environment] as not being fast enough.
However, before they can be adopted by the commission many proposals need to be subject to an impact assessment and inter-service consultation. This can be a complex process and requires time,” the spokesman said.
Ms Day, sometimes described as the most powerful woman in Brussels, was appointed to the EU civil service’s top job in 2005 after almost four years at the head of DG Environment, the commission’s environment department.
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