A summary of the Committee’s exchange of views with FVP Timmermans as part of the structured dialogue, and with a focus on environment and energy & climate related issues, is available.
EP ENVI Committee Meeting – 12 June 2017
Exchange of views with Mr Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights as part of the structured dialogue
First Vice-President Timmermans
- commitments regarding the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were being taken very seriously by the Commission on both an EU and global level;
- in November 2016, the Commission had presented its report on sustainable development and he was looking forward to the Committee’s response to this;
- the EU’s answer to the 2030 Agenda would include two work-streams:
- mainstream the SDGs in the EU policy framework and Commission’s priorities;
- launch reflection on further developing the longer-term vision and the focus of sectoral policies after 2020. The long-term vision would be formed in cooperation with the European Parliament (EP), Council, member states (MS) and the multi-stakeholder platform they were in the process of launching;
- in light of Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from COP 21, it was more important than ever for the EU to remain as dedicated as ever and show world leadership;
- the Circular Economy Package was one of the best examples of what could be done. The Waste Package was a key part and all institutions shared a common responsibility to deliver an agreement by the end of the year;
- there was now a better understanding in the MS that good waste management was a “win-win” proposition. The Commission were keen to maintain a high level of ambition for the package as a whole, based on ambitious targets for landfill reduction and recycling, as well as sound, fair and transparent calculation rules. It was encouraging that both the EP and Council wanted to achieve the greatest level of comparability as possible. Calculation rules for both recycling and landfilling needed to be robust, practical and transparent;
- whilst there was agreement that some countries might need more time to achieve targets, it was important to avoid overly long time extensions;
- wider and better use of economic instruments such as extended producer responsibility had proven essential;
- the Commission recognised the EP’s call for new quantitive targets, but as a general rule, this work should be guided by credible data and an ex-ante impact assessment. He recognised the importance of looking more closely at food waste. National parliaments had launched a green card initiative on this and it was important to take it forward;
- he also noted the wide range of initiatives the Council and EP wanted the Commission to take in the area of waste in the near future. He was looking forward to future discussions on this;
- he underscored the importance of plastics in daily life. However, between 5-13 million tonnes ended up in the environment everyday, harming nature, the economy and health. He referenced the “incredible burden” posed by non-biodegradable bottle caps on the marine environment, as proven recently in the Netherlands. Today more than 90% of plastics were produced from virgin material and plastic production resulted in around 400 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, globally. This could rise to 15% of global annual carbon emissions by 2050, should current trends continue. The Circular Economy Action Plan called for a circular approach to plastics, looking at the whole life-cycle of the material and products. To achieve this, they were taking steps to ensure the implementation of existing requirements and plastic waste reduction was included in waste legislation proposals. The Action Plan also foresaw synergies with other legislation such as ecodesign;
- the EU Plastics Strategy would be published before the end of the year and would trigger an in-depth transformation of plastic design, production, use and end-of-life management and strengthen the foundations for a new plastics industry;
- he was enthusiastic that the private sector had woken up to the benefits of this strategy which would be positive from both an environmental and competitive angle;
- the Plastics Strategy would set out the vision for the changes required. A new plastics value chain was needed in which production was decoupled from the use of non-renewables and resources and products were designed to be recyclable and resource-efficient with a low-carbon footprint and high durability;
- micro-plastics were a daunting challenge and an increasing number of countries were banning or addressing them. The strategy would also tackle bio-degradable plastics. Even if they could be seen as a possible solution to reduce plastic leakage in the environment, they needed to be sustainable .
- the Commission were organising targeted consultations with stakeholders to prepare the strategy, as well as a conference on 26th September 2017;
- he closed his presentation by underscoring the importance of better regulation which was about “choosing the best way to reach goals.” He referenced the example of last week’s Action Plan on Environmental Reporting as a positive example. In addition, the recent fitness check of the Birds and Habitats Directive had resulted in better engagement with local and regional authorities on the matter which would help with implementation.
ENVI Committee Chair Adina-Ioana Vălean (EPP, RO)
- she thanked the Commission for supporting the view of the EP in the waste package trilogues;
- comments about the need to mainstream the SDGs in the EU policy framework were welcome;
- on better regulation, she asked for further clarification on the Commission’s intentions in terms of deleting certain burdensome provisions.
Peter Liese (EPP, DE)
- he supported the comments made on plastics and was looking forward to the Commission’s strategy on this.
Miriam Dalli (S&D, MT)
- with regards to glyphosate, she asked for further explanation on ongoing REFIT evaluations concerning plant protection and feed-law regulations and measures the Commission were considering with regards to transparency and scientific peer-reviewed publicly available studies on evaluated active substances;
- both EFSA and ECHA conclusions on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate seemed questionable and she asked if the Commission would consider a critical evaluation of their studies on the matter.
- on the biodiversity strategy, she questioned how the Commission were assessing concrete measures being taken to meet targets and were they on track to meet them. According to environmental organisations, biodiversity loss was happening at a continuous and catastrophic rate across the EU;
- following the recent UK election, Michael Gove “the arch-Brexiteer” was now Environment Minster. There was concern, as he had previously expressed a preference for tearing up environmental legislation. She called on the Commission to ensure that any deal with the UK government on Brexit would not lead to environmental dumping. She also expressed the same view with regards to Trump and trade with the US.
Kateřina Konečná (GUE/NGL, CZ)
- although more and more laws were being passed, implementation in the MS continued to be weak and she questioned how the Commission would address this.
Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA, NL)
- he asked if the Commission would come forward with a proposal on the scientific criteria on endocrine disruptors and would they promise not to change the legal text through a delegated or implementing act.
Mireille D’ornano (ENF, FR)
- she asked for further information about the implementation at local level of the Circular Economy Strategy and reduction of plastic waste;
- she questioned the link between sustainable growth and migration and how this would be addressed;
- on the optimisation of the contribution of the CAP to sustainable development, she questioned how the productivity of agriculture could be increased whilst also protecting citizens from the dangers of pesticides and GMOs;
- finally, on the subject of international agreements on emissions from aviation, she asked if the Commission recognised ICAO as the responsible body or if the EU had more legitimacy in this area.
First Vice-President Timmermans
- on glyphosate, the conclusions of EFSA and ECHA were in line with other regulatory bodies both within and outside the EU. Furthermore, “putting aside scientific evidence would not be the right direction to take”. On 16th May, the Commission had agreed to restart the discussion with MS on the possible renewal of the approval of glyphosate for 10 years. The deadline for the decision on the renewal of this approval was 6 months after the reception by the Commission of ECHA’s formal opinion (the opinion was expected to be transmitted this month). Discussions with the MS would take place in the summer and the decision would be finalised in the autumn before proceeding to a vote.
- on biodiversity, they needed to up the ante on implementation and ensure appropriate measures were in place. These measures had been included in the Action Plan but the people on the ground were not seeing the effects so they needed to make extra effort in close cooperation with the MS and local and regional authorities.
- engaging in in environmental dumping because it was considered to be better for the economy was “beyond stupid.” Policies aimed at reviving the coal industry or not understanding that other energy sources needed to be sought were only extending the suffering of coal miners and their communities. He said this as the grandson of two coal miners.
- with reference to comments by Kateřina Konečná (GUE/NGL, CZ) the Commission fulfilled their role in terms of the obligations they had as guardian of the treaties. The Commission would show willing to start infringement procedures if that was the only instrument they had left.
- the Commission were trying to work with the MS and wanted to see criteria adopted. He would get back to Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA, NL) with a written answer that provided more detail.
Waste and Circular Economy
- on the question of ensuring local level networks and solutions to waste and reuse, this was “one of the most exciting things happening today”. Energy supply was becoming more personal and locally organised and they needed to be ready to talk to local authorities about this matter with regards to waste.
- on the link with the agriculture sector in safeguarding biodiversity and assuring sustainable food production etc “they could not do this without the farmers and certainly could not do it by going against them.” This was the strategy Commissioner Hogan was developing in terms of Greening the CAP. The original objective of the CAP as included in the treaty, would have to be implemented differently today than 50 years ago.
Immigration and the Environment
- a large part of migration was caused by environmental degradation and desertification in parts of Africa and sometimes parts of Europe. The scientific evidence was overwhelming that much of this was man-induced and they had a responsibility to tackle it.
Ivo Belet (EPP, BE)
- following the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, he focused on how they could guarantee a global level playing field in future. Arguments for a carbon tax were not convincing;
- California had proposed inclusion of US imports into its own ETS, and he questioned if the EU could find such a legally sound solution as well. He called for reflection on such a system and connecting with other trading systems.
Gilles Pargneaux (S&D, FR)
- there had been resistance to Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement in the US at local, regional and business level, with a number of bodies expressing their commitment to COP21 goals in an open letter;
- he thought the EU should set up cooperation with the American state, cities and companies on this and he asked if the Commission had a plan to do so.
Giovanni La Via (EPP, IT)
- with reference to the next work programme, he asked what the Commission planned to do to uphold momentum on the Paris Agreement. Timely information on this was needed.
Simona Bonafè (S&D, IT)
- the decision on Paris seemed to be definitive for the US, as confirmed at the G7. Europe needed to continue to lead the way and to do this, they needed to achieve goals not just set goals in order to be credible;
- could projects by public administrations concerning issues such as energy efficiency in schools, sustainable mobility and infrastructure be removed from EU budget calculations she asked.
Seb Dance (S&D, UK)
- he had a number of concerns about the multi-stakeholder forum on sustainable development and asked for assurance that there would be horizontal working across all the Commission departments as well as a genuine conversation between the EU institutions and local, regional and national authorities. He asked for concrete examples on how the forum would work to deliver these aims.
Karl-Heinz Florenz (EPP, DE)
- following Trump’s decision on climate policy, the EU should continue to lead the way, innovate and US industry would have to follow suit;
- on plant protection, a new generation of pesticides was needed and they had to make this clear to industry. In his constituency, though water was protected, it was still polluted and he called for the Commission’s help on this;
- more awareness was needed in the farming community about the issue of sustainability. Simply bashing farmers would not get them anywhere.
Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA, DE)
- the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee had stated in March 2017 that the EU was in breach of article 9 (justice provisions) and that no NGO or individual had been granted legal standing before the Court of Justice of the EU to challenge decisions taken by EU institutions (except for refusal to disclose documents). The Committee’s findings would be submitted for endorsement by the meeting of the parties of the Aarhus Convention at its sixth session in September 2017. Since the establishment of the compliance mechanism in 2002, the main findings had always been endorsed by the meetings with the support of the EU so she questioned what the EU would do in this case.
Paul Brannen (S&D, UK)
- on LULUCF, there was agreement across the political groups on the importance of planting trees which was important for carbon sequestration. Wood should also be used more as a building material as it would continue to sequester carbon and was a good substitute for concrete. Concrete manufacturing were responsible for 8% of carbon emissions globally;
- fire regulations had held back building with wood, particularly at height. However, the arrival of cross-laminated timber enabled building at height structurally and provided enhanced safety provisions. Firefighters had said they would prefer to enter a wooden building on fire than a steel or concrete building. In a wooden building it was easier to predict where it might collapse;
- because fire regulations were being changed around the world (Portland, US currently had the highest wooden building) he asked if the Commission would support building with wood as part of the battle against climate change.
First Vice-President Timmermans
- the momentum was behind the EU’s vision;
- moreover, at state level, “the ship had sailed” and there was an appetite to be part of this agreement so he agreed with building new partnerships with California. There was also great opportunity for regional alliances. Paris could be the driving force to change relationships across the world on environmental matters and to create a more global stakeholder approach rather than nation-state to nation-state approach;
- in connection to this, they needed to put a price on carbon and make this a success in order to meet Paris commitments. Political will was needed to give momentum to the negotiations and he would do his best to encourage this;
- he was unsure about introducing a border however and questioned if this would be feasible – some stakeholders were against this and there was no support from the MS. Border measures for some sectors risked weakening the ETS;
- he viewed Giovanni La Via‘s (EPP, IT) comment as a message on the work programme 2018 and he would do his best to ensure this;
- the private sector was ready to invest but needed legal certainty in the longer-term up to 2030. 2020 was too close. Goals set for 2030 therefore had to be consistent with 2020. Europe’s standards would become the global ones.
- they would work in cooperation with the Committee of the Regions who were in turn, engaging with their members who were talking to local and regional authorities. Through the platform they were “unbubbling Brussels a bit.” This was a huge opportunity. The day-to-day activities would be overseen by a management committee that would be report back to the platform.
- new technologies were needed to encourage farmers to get on board. There was going to be a push by Commissioner Hogan on this with regards to interoperability, remote sensor technologies etc. Young farmers were in agreement on the need to be consistent with environmental challenges.
- the Commission were in the process of defining their position. He cautioned that the EU had said when joining, that the workings of the Aarhus Convention and its decisions had to be compatible with the EU’s legal order.
LULUCF and Wood
- although he was not personally aware of wood used for buildings, this was an inspiring opportunity to “change the way we build and also change the way we see concrete”. The last 15 years had seen more use of concrete and natural resources in buildings than the previous 3000-4000 years and this was completely unsustainable. When building, they needed to ensure they built to recycle – sometimes building in the short-term to recycle or for a longer period with less need to recycle;
- there was no doubt in his mind that wood and forestry would play an important role in this. Creating sustainability in forestry was another challenge and linked to the biodiversity agenda. This had to be part of a comprehensive strategy as forestry itself could become a threat to biodiversity if it was too one-dimensional.
ENVI Committee Chair Adina-Ioana Vălean (EPP, RO)
- she asked if there would be discussions by the Commission regarding a change of working method at ECHA and other Agencies and if they would have their own expert studies instead of relying on reports from MS.
Source: One Policy Place