Initiation the European Commission

The development of proposals for new EU laws and policies begins within the European Commission. Its most significant power lies in its monopoly on the proposal and drafting of new laws, but it also has a pivotal position as a broker of interests and a forum for the exchange of policy ideas (Mazey and Richardson, 1997), and as a mediator among the member states and the different EU institutions. Proposals are sent to other institutions and interested parties for discussion and amendment, and are then returned to the Commission which is respon sible for overseeing and monitoring their implementation by the member states.

Public opinion on the Commission is generally negative, driven by a common misapprehension that the Commission is a large, powerful and inaccessible entity that is behind the growth in the regulatory burden on business, industry and citizens. In fairness, the Commission is neither large, powerful nor always inaccessible. While much of its work - like the work of bureaucracies everywhere - takes place out of the public eye, its employees liaise closely and often with interested outside parties. This is particularly true in regard to environmental issues - there are several channels through which interest groups, experts and national government ministries can work with the Commission in developing new laws, all of which must go through a lengthy and complex process of negotiation and elaboration.

While the Commission has substantially more power over initiating and influencing policy than do national bureaucracies, the final decision on the adoption of new laws rests with Parliament and the Council of Ministers, implementation is left largely to the member states, and the Commission has no powers of enforcement; instead, it tries to encourage policy implementation by national authorities. Furthermore, its work is guided and limited by the goals of the treaties, and the Commission must also answer to the other institutions (notably the Council of Ministers) and to the representatives of the member states in developing its legislative proposals.

At the top of the policy network are the 20 Commissioners, each of whom is given one or more policy portfolios for which they are responsible, and is supported by a cabinet of about seven to eight advisers. Cabinets play a central role in Commission policy-making, help coordinate policy, broker competing interests inside and outside the Commission, and are a key target for lobbying by sectoral and national interests (Donnelley and Ritchie, 1997). As is the case with cabinets in national governments, there is a hierarchy of portfolios in the Commission, with those relating to the budget, the internal market, trade, agriculture and external relations being regarded as the most senior. The environmental portfolio is still seen as middle-ranking, partly because of its relative newness and partly because of the relatively low level of policy activity on the environment (compared, say, to the internal market). The port folio was tied to a Commissioner for the first time in its own right only in 1989, since when there have been five officeholders: Carlo Ripa di Meana (1989-92), Karel van Miert (acting) (1992-93), Iannis Paleokrassas (1993-95), Ritt Bjerre-gaard (1995-99) and Margot Wallstrom (1999- ).

The body of the Commission consists of its 23 directorates-general (DGs) (see Table 4.1). The functional equivalent of national government ministries, DGs house the bureaucrats appointed to carry out the daily tasks of administration for the EU. About two-thirds of Commission staff are career employees (or fonctionnaires), who work alongside national experts seconded for a specific period to provide specialist input into the development of EU policy. The latter tend to come from industry or national government ministries, or occasionally from NGOs,

TABLE 4.1 Directorates-General of the European Commission

New name

Old number









Economic and Financial Affairs


Education and Culture


Employment and Social Affairs


Energy and Transport








External Relations


Financial Control




Health and Consumer Protection


Information Society


Internal Market


Justice and Home Affairs


Personnel and Administration


Regional Policy




Taxation and the Customs Union




and are normally employed on one-year contracts, renewable twice. They are paid by their member states, given a per diem by the Commission, and are guaranteed that their jobs at home will be held open for them.

The DG most centrally - but not exclusively - involved in EU environmental policy is the Environment DG. Created in 1973 as the Environment and Consumer Protection Service of DGIII (then responsible for industrial affairs), it was raised to the status of a separate directorate-general in 1981 (DGXI). Its internal structure was overhauled in 1989 in response to its increasing workload, and in 1995 consumer protection was made part of a new DGXXIV, and civil protection was transferred to DGXI from DGV (employment, industrial relations and social affairs). As part of the Prodi reforms in 1999, directorates-general ceased to be known by their numbers, so DGXI was renamed the Environment DG (EDG). It has five directorates: A deals with general and international affairs, B with integration policy, C with nuclear safety and civil protection, D with environmental quality and natural resources, and E with industry and the environment (see Table 4.2).

Situated in the southern suburbs of Brussels in two separate buildings, the EDG in 1998 employed about 500 staff and operated on a budget of just over 140 million ecus. Just over half its employees were involved in policy development, and the rest in administration and translation. While there has been a tendency for some of the DGs to be 'captured' by one member state or another - for example, External Affairs has a British tilt to its staff, while the Internal Market DG has a German tilt - Environment has no significant inclination towards any one member state. Its staff tend to be technical specialists because of the nature of their work, and most of their business is conducted in English for the same reason. About two-thirds of its staff are fonctionnaires, and the rest are national experts working through secondments of up to three years.

Time has seen changes in the approach of EDG employees to their work. It is sometimes assumed that the EDG has a green bias to its work, and a sympathy for the work of environmental NGOs, but this is not entirely true. One long-time staff member noted that while the service had once been dominated by employees with strong interests in the environment, it had slowly become more bureaucratic and technically-oriented. For

TABLE 4.2 Organizational chart of the Environment DG



Deputy Director General

Directorate A

General and international affairs

1 Inter-institutional relations

2 Climate change

3 International affairs, trade and environment

4 Development and environment

Directorate B

Integration policy and environmental


1 Environmental action programme,

integration, relations with the European

Environment Agency

2 Economic analyses and employment

3 Legal affairs, activities related to legislation

and enforcement of Community law

4 Structural policy, environmental impact

assessment, LIFE

Directorate C

Nuclear safety and civil protection

1 Radiation protection

2 Regulation and radioactive waste

management policy

3 Civil protection

Directorate D

Environment quality and natural resources

1 Water protection, soil conservation,


2 Nature protection, coastal zones and


3 Air quality, urban environment, noise,

transport, energy

Directorate E

Industry and environment

1 Industrial installations and hazards,


2 Chemical substances

3 Waste management

4 Industry, internal market, products and

voluntary approaches

his part, he put the EU first on his list of priorities, the Commission second, the EDG third, and the environment fourth -he saw himself as much less an environmentalist than a bureaucrat. He also argued that this shift had allowed the Environment DG to be taken more seriously by other services; its credibility would be undermined if it was perceived as a proselytizing organization rather than a professional service working in the broader interests of European integration. At the same time, another staff member argued that the EDG was not so technocratic as to be immune to internal politics, and to the influence of rivalries, friendships and professional biases.

Fonctionnaires and national experts alike often bemoan the length of time involved in seeing a piece of legislation through from proposal to adoption. More senior fonctionnaires in the EDG recall how it was once possible to complete a project in two to three years, but that seven to eight years has now become the norm. One national expert recalled how he had assumed upon arrival that he might see at least part of his project through to completion before his three-year secondment was over, but soon discovered that the process was very slow-moving, thanks in part to shortstaffing in the EDG (a common complaint among its employees), but mainly to the need to ensure that all the member states, all other relevant services of the Commission, and all interested lobbyists had their input.

More time has also been added to the legislative process in the EDG by the introduction by the Single European Act of the integration principle. This gave the EDG a higher status, because it has become much more active since 1987 in working with other parts of the Commission, particularly those that were already involved in activities with an obvious environmental dimension. At the same time, though, it has greatly complicated the EDG's work, because it must now network with all these other elements of the Commission, and make sure that it vets proposals from other DGs with an environmental element, and that it passes its own proposals on to other DGs for comment.

The other DGs most actively involved in environmental matters include the following:

• Agriculture (formerly DGVI). As well as dealing with concerns arising from the environmental impact of the Common

Agricultural Policy, Agriculture is involved in rural develop ment issues and structural policies relating to the development of poorer rural regions of the EU. It is also involved in the development of laws and policies pertaining to forestry, organic agriculture and environmentally-friendly farming.

• Energy and Transport (formerly DGVII and DGXVII). Commission staff working on energy matters deal mainly with issues such as fuel supply, the energy market, EU cooperation with non-member states, trans-European energy networks and energy technology, but they also look at the environmental impact of energy use and the safe transport of radioactive material, and manage the EU programmes on limiting carbon dioxide emissions through improved energy efficiency (SAVE and SAVE II) and on promoting the use of renewable energy (ALTENER and ALTENER II) (see Chapter 10).

For its part, EU transport policy is concerned mainly with competition rules and market operation, but the Common Transport Policy action plan (1998-2004) includes the development of environmental standards for transport. The development of trans-European transport networks also has an environmental impact, and the Energy and Transport DG monitors the development of policy on issues such as road vehicle emissions and the transport of hazardous wastes. Several pieces of law have also been developed on safety at sea with a view to controlling pollution.

• Fisheries (formerly DGXIV) is responsible for the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which includes the conservation and management of marine resources, and agreements with non-member countries and international organizations. The major goal of the CFP is to strike a sustainable balance between available marine resources and the methods used to exploit them. Conservation involves drawing up guidelines on the management of resources, development of proposals for total allowable catches (TACs), and undertaking research into the status of fisheries.

The work of the Commission has been bolstered since 1993 by the European Environment Agency (EEA). As noted in Chapter 2, the EEA is not a policy-making or implementing body, but is charged with collecting, analyzing and distilling information on the environment produced by various other agencies. It makes that information available to EU institutions (including the Commission) and member states, helps promote comparable data-gathering systems among the member states, identifies and develops new ideas for EU environmental legislation, draws up triennial reports on the state of the European environment (the first two were published in l995 and l998), promotes methods for the harmonization of methods of measurement, liaises with national, regional and international agencies, and coordinates the European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET). EIONET consists of a network of national organizations that help retrieve information for the EEA, and identify special issues that need to be addressed.

Headquartered in Copenhagen, the EEA had about 70 staff in 2000 and a budget of nearly l7 million euros. Membership is open to non-EU countries, but so far only Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway have joined from outside the EU.

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