Improving the environmental performance of companies and implement sustainable production methods by encouraging voluntary commitments and agreements in accordance with the sixth Action Programme for the environment.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 17 July 2002 on Environmental Agreements at Community Level within the Framework of the Action Plan on the "Simplification and Improvement of the Regulatory Environment„ [COM(2002) 412 final - Not published in the Official Journal]
The Action Plan on Simplifying and Improving the Regulatory Environment [COM(2002) 278 final] was published by the Commission in June 2002. Simplifying and improving the regulatory environment will in the present context of the European Union help to better adapt Community legislation, ensure a high level of legal certainty and enable economic and social operators to be more dynamic.
In the framework of the fifth Action Programme for the environment, the Commission adopted in 1996 a Communication on environmental agreements [COM(1996) 561 final]. It stressed the advantages of such agreements:
- a proactive approach by industry;
- effective and tailor-made solutions;
- fast achievement of environmental objectives.
The 1996 Communication focused on agreements of the Member States whereas the new Communication exclusively concerns the use of agreements at Community level.
All the environmental agreements covered by the Communication contribute to achieving the objectives of Union policy on the environment. There are three different types:
- agreements initiated by stakeholders in fields where the Commission has not drafted legislation and has not indicated its intention to do so;
- agreements adopted by stakeholders in response to the Commission's stated intention to draft legislation;
- agreements ensuing from a Commission initiative.
Self-regulation and co-regulation
Environmental agreements are a form of self-regulation as they are not binding at Community level. However, the Commission can encourage them, recognise them (this applies to self-regulation) or propose that the legislature make use of them (this applies to co-regulation).
Self-regulation concerns agreements concluded among the social partners, economic operators, NGOs or associations in order to regulate and organise their activities. In general, the initiative is taken by the parties themselves. While self-regulation does not involve the adoption of a legislative instrument, the Commission can nevertheless decide to introduce an evaluation system. Such environmental agreements are generally recognised at Community level:
- by a recommendation from the Commission accompanied by adoption of the agreement or by an exchange of letters between the Commission and representatives of the sector recognising the agreement;
- by a recommendation from the Commission accompanied by a Council and European Parliament decision setting up a monitoring and reporting system.
Co-regulation concerns agreements concluded in the framework of a Community legislative instrument laying down the objectives to be achieved, the timetable to be met, monitoring methods and penalties to be imposed for non-compliance. Details for implementation are set out in the agreements. In general, it is the Commission that takes the initiative for such agreements.
Conditions to be met
Environmental agreements should comply with:
- the provisions of the Community Treaties (in particular the rules on competition, the internal market and State aid for the environment) and all international commitments of the Union;
- the inter-institutional balance between the Commission, Council and Parliament;
- the obligations concerning multilateral trade laid down by the World Trade Organisation. The agreements should provide for the participation of operators from third countries;
- the provisions of the Aarhus Convention;
- national and Community judicial control.
In addition to the objectives set by the sixth Action Plan for the environment, agreements should present a real added value with regard to the level of protection of the environment. Other criteria should also be taken into account:
- evaluation of the agreements should take account of the cost-benefit ratio. Administrative costs should not be higher than those of other available instruments;
- signatories to environmental agreements should represent the majority of the economic sector concerned and should be responsible and organised;
- the objectives of the agreements must be clearly stated without any ambiguity. If the agreement covers a long period, intermediate objectives must likewise be specified. There must be reliable indicators to measure the extent to which objectives have been achieved;
- agreements should be accessible to the public on the internet, and the same applies to the relevant reports and accounts. Interested parties should be able to express their opinions;
- environmental agreements should include a monitoring and reporting system for achieving the objectives;
- agreements should incorporate matters relating to sustainable development and consumer protection.
This Communication proposes a procedure for adopting environmental agreements when they are used as instruments for self-regulation. First of all, the Commission will analyse the agreement and inform Parliament and the Council whether or not it intends to recognise it. It will also publish this intention on its website in order to enable members of the public to state their views. The Council and Parliament can hold hearings and organise information campaigns on the issues covered. Once all comments have been received, in particular from the Council and Parliament, the Commission will decide whether the agreement ought to be recognised. The text of the agreement will be published on the Commission's website and the recommendation concerning the agreement will be published in the Official Journal. Next, the Commission will monitor whether the objectives of the agreement are being achieved and inform the Council, Parliament and the public of its findings. If the objectives are not attained, the Commission may propose binding legislation in the field.
A procedure for environmental agreements taking the form of co-regulation instruments is likewise proposed. All key elements will be incorporated in the legal instrument, in particular the objectives and monitoring mechanisms. Before the instrument is adopted in accordance with the codecision procedure, consultation will take place among the stakeholders. The agreement and the results of monitoring will be published on the Commission's website. If the agreement does not produce the results envisaged, the Commission can still propose binding legislation as in the case of self-regulation.