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Document 51999AC0448

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council recommendation providing for minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States'

OJ C 169, 16.6.1999, p. 12–14 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council recommendation providing for minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States'

Official Journal C 169 , 16/06/1999 P. 0012 - 0014

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the "Proposal for a Council recommendation providing for minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States"

(1999/C 169/05)

On 9 February 1999 the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 130s of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 8 April 1999. The rapporteur was Mrs Sánchez Miguel and the co-rapporteurs Mr Pezzini and Mrs Santiago.

At its 363rd plenary session (meeting of 28 April 1999) the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 84 votes to three with two abstentions.

1. Introduction

1.1. The implementation and enforcement of Community environmental standards are delegated to the Member States in line with the principle of subsidiarity. However, in view of the increasing damage to the environment, thought must be given to the need for the competent Community authorities to push ahead not only with the harmonization of divergent national legislative models, but also with the creation of Community information and monitoring systems to ensure that the Member States comply with Community environmental standards.

1.2. It should be noted that the Commission communication on implementing Community environmental law(1) announced measures to harmonize existing Member State inspection systems by laying down minimum criteria for environmental inspections, to be drawn up by IMPEL(2). In its opinion(3) on this communication the Committee argued that the European Environment Agency should also undertake this task as it has detailed information on the situation in the Member States.

1.3. The need for harmonization is apparent from the measures envisaged in the Commission proposal. Its aim is to establish some minimum criteria for environmental inspections carried out in the Member States in the various sectors into which responsibility is divided. These criteria - which have been proposed by IMPEL - concern the frequency of inspections, the information required, publication of findings, etc. The proposal is also intended to establish some minimum rules for publicising the results, aimed at the general public and more specifically at environmental organisations.

1.4. It should be pointed out, however, that in this first stage the scope of the proposal is confined to air, water and soil pollution from point sources covered by Community legislation ("controlled installations"); diffuse sources are not included.

1.5. The inspection of these installations will entail checking compliance with Community environmental legislation and the provisions enacted by national authorities in implementation thereof. "Environmental inspection" will also include monitoring the impact of controlled installations on the environment with a view to making recommendations as to measures which may be taken in the event of non-compliance.

1.6. There are two types of inspection: routine, i.e. part of a planned programme, and non-routine, i.e. carried out in response to a complaint or accident.

1.7. The legal basis for the proposal is Articles 130r and 130s of the Treaty which refer to the implementation of Community environmental policy, although Articles 155, 169 and 171, which empower the Commission to supervise the transposition of Community into national law, would also apply.

1.8. It must be stressed that inspection is the sole responsibility of the Member States. For this reason the Commission has opted for a recommendation which lays down minimum standards for existing (or new) inspections in the Member States so as not to impinge on their sovereignty in this matter.

2. Comments on the proposed measures

2.1. With regard to informing the public (Art. IV.1 and especially VI.2), which is covered by Directive 90/313/EEC on the freedom of access to information on the environment, the Committee considers that more stress should be placed onpublicising the inspection activities and that above all the legitimate right to request such information should be clearly defined, seeing that in practice it is often refused.

2.2. With regard to the inspection criteria proposed by the Commission (Art. 5), the Committee proposes adding that the authorities responsible for the inspections should apply to those enterprises which voluntarily join the eco-management and audit scheme(4) (EMAS) the same inspection methods as are already used in the EMAS. This would encourage a greater number of enterprises to join the scheme which has scarcely been used so far in some Member States.

2.3. The Committee approves recommendation VIII on the reporting of environmental inspection activities in general. This is a positive step in that it enables a check to be made on the level of compliance with the regulations. It also approves the actions proposed in the event of non-compliance.

2.4. Non-routine site visits (Art. V.3) may be regarded as playing a fundamental preventive role, since the cooperation of environmental organizations and the public will make for better monitoring of compliance with the regulations. Account should also be taken of the role that workers' organizations could play here, in that it is the workers who suffer directly from the effects of non-compliance with environmental standards and who are more knowledgeable than other members of public. Recommendation V.3 should therefore contain a new paragraph recognizing the right of workers' organizations in inspected enterprises and installations to file a complaint.

2.5. Inspection reports could be better publicised (Art. VI.2) if they were included in a European register as urged by the ESC in its opinion on the implementation of environmental legislation(5). The European Environment Agency could undertake this task.

2.6. The Committee welcomes the inclusion of a recommendation on co-operation between the Member States (Art. III.2), since the exchange of information, including carrying out joint inspections, will have a greater impact on the environment, bearing in mind that many natural resources, water, air, etc. know no frontiers. In this connection the ESCwould stress the importance of extending this co-operation to the applicant countries so as to help them make the changes necessary to bring all their environmental legislation into line with the Community acquis.

2.7. By the same token, the Committee considers that minimum criteria should be laid down for harmonising the training of inspectors.

3. Conclusions

3.1. The ESC considers that this recommendation will help to ensure that environmental legislation is implemented properly; the Commission must, however, push ahead with the planned subsequent stages, especially the inspection of diffuse sources of pollution.

3.2. In order to reduce the current differences in inspection duties between the Member States, it is also important to lay down some common criteria for environmental inspectors, in particular their qualifications and training, as is being done through IMPEL.

3.3. With regard to point VII on investigations of serious accidents and incidents, the Commission should be able, with due respect for the principle of subsidiarity, to take action to remedy any shortcomings in the inspections in some Member States, using the Treaty articles which allow it to monitor the transposition and implementation of Community legislation.

3.4. The Committee would stress the need for harmonization between the criteria for the EMAS procedure and those for this type of inspection; this would avoid a duplication of bureaucratic procedures and, above all, would encourage SMEs to apply the criteria voluntarily because they would be able to adjust more easily to voluntary criteria. It would also help to align the information obtained from each type of inspection.

3.5. In line with its earlier stance in the opinion on the implementation of Community environmental legislation, the Committee calls for centralization of the information obtained from environmental inspections in a European register which could be held by the European Environment Agency. This register would be kept separately from the national data bases provided for in point VI.2 of the proposed recommendation, thus improving the information available to all organizations concerned about the environment.

3.6. The Committee supports the Commission's proposal to review the implementation of the recommendation after two years. If need be, the case for a framework directive could be examined then.

Brussels, 28 April 1999.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee


(1) COM(96) 500 final, 22.10.96.

(2) Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law.

(3) OJ C 206, 7.7.1997.

(4) Council Regulation EEC No. 1836/93, OJ L 168, 10.7.1993.

(5) OJ C 206, 7.7.1997.