19.8.2008   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 211/40


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the review of Recommendation 2001/331/EC providing minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States’

COM(2007) 707 final

(2008/C 211/10)

On 14 November 2007 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the review of Recommendation 2001/331/EC providing minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States.

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 27 March 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Zbořil.

At its 444th plenary session, held on 22 and 23 April 2008 (meeting of 22 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 151 votes in favour with three abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC agrees with the Commission's view that the general framework for environmental inspection systems in Member States should remain in the form of a Recommendation. However, the Recommendation should be amended in order to improve its implementation and strengthen its effectiveness. In key areas, sectoral legislation means that the inspection activity, its implementation and methodology, are legally binding across the whole of the EU.

1.2

The Recommendation must be absolutely clear and comprehensible for its effective implementation. It is therefore important to clearly define the scope of environmental inspections taking into account the detected problems.

1.3

The definition, clarity and uniformity of terms are of major importance for the harmonisation of inspection activities across the whole territory of the Community and for providing a level playing field for businesses. There are many other examples of the use of these terms in other community legislation, for which the definition varies from one act to another. The definition of terms will therefore generally require closer attention.

1.4

Clearer definition of criteria for planning, carrying out, following up and reporting on environmental inspections is also required.

1.5

The use of modern management methods should be recommended for the system for managing the inspection activities. These methods would help focus inspection activities on key areas of importance for environmental protection, improve planning and could also contribute to the sustainable improvement of environmental protection.

1.6

Further standardisation in access to information is required in accordance with current Community legislation. Information provided should give an overall picture of the facts uncovered by the inspection, the necessary corrective measures and details of their implementation.

1.7

The IMPEL network must be supported in order to further strengthen international cooperation and ensure greater harmonisation in standards of inspection and enforcement.

2.   The Commission document

2.1

Inspections are an important instrument for ensuring the implementation and enforcement of Community environmental legislation. In 2001, the European Parliament and Council adopted Recommendation 2001/331/EC providing for minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States (1).

2.2

The Recommendation contains legally binding criteria for planning, carrying out, following up and reporting on environmental inspections, which aim to strengthen compliance with Community law and to contribute to its more consistent implementation and enforcement in all Member States.

2.3

The Commission has carried out a survey on the implementation and enforcement of this Recommendation, which will be used as a basis for drafting the new version of the Recommendation, to be submitted in 2008.

2.4

All Member States submitted reports on the implementation of the Recommendation and a report on their experiences with its application. However, it should be noted that the application process for the Recommendation varied widely from State to State. While all Member States have implemented the Recommendation at least in part, only a small number have applied it fully. There are always large differences in the implementation of environmental inspections within the Community. Moreover, these differences lead to distortions of competition for businesses.

2.5

Marked differences, which need to be eliminated, are particularly noticeable in the following areas:

2.5.1   Definition of the scope

2.5.1.1

The current scope focuses mainly on industrial and waste treatment installations and excludes many activities that are regulated under Community environmental legislation. In particular, the Recommendation does not contain criteria for the inspection of waste shipments. Transboundary shipments of waste are regulated at EU level by the Waste Shipment Regulation (2). The implementation of this Regulation is a high priority for the Commission.

2.5.1.2

The Recommendation also does not include criteria for the inspection of Natura 2000 sites. The Commission thus welcomes the creation of the Green Enforce Network, which aims at encouraging cooperation and exchange of experiences between Member States to facilitate the implementation of nature legislation. The Green Enforce Network is currently considering contributing to the further development of environmental inspections by developing criteria for the inspection of Natura 2000 sites.

2.5.1.3

Other environmental legislation to which the Recommendation is not applicable concerns the registration and authorisation of chemicals (REACH (3)), the restriction of certain hazardous substances in products (e.g. the RoHS Directive (4)), trade in endangered species (5) as well as activities related to genetically modified organisms and producer responsibility systems.

2.5.2

Clarification of definitions: some terms used in the Recommendation are interpreted in different ways by Member States. Differing interpretations can be identified in particular for the following concepts:

Inspection, control, audit

Inspection authority

Inspection plan, inspection programme

Cross-border mechanism

Routine, non-routine inspections.

2.5.3

Criteria for planning, carrying out, following up and reporting on inspections: the objective of the Recommendation is to strengthen compliance of controlled installations with environmental legislation and to achieve a high level of environmental protection. In order to achieve this, the Recommendation sets out criteria on how to plan, carry out, follow up and report on environmental inspections.

Planning of inspections: the Recommendation provides for the establishment of inspection plans and sets out general criteria for these plans and their minimum content. In many Member States, however, inspection plans do not contain strategic elements but rather consist of lists of installations or sectors to be inspected in a certain time period. There seems to be a potential for further improving the planning of inspections in the Member States to make the best possible use of their available resources. Some Member States have already established advanced systems to plan inspections through the use of risk-based management approaches (6).

Carrying out of inspections: the Recommendation states that site visits should be regularly carried out as part of the authorities' routine inspections and in the case of complaints, accidents, incidents or occurrences of non compliance and after issuing a permit and before reissue or renewal or modification of a permit. Criteria are set out describing how these site visits should be carried out. Although there are no major disparities between individual Member States, practices in this area should also be harmonised.

Evaluation of inspection plans: evaluating the success of inspection plans has been recognised as an important tool to improve the planning of inspections. Some Member States have put in place sophisticated systems to evaluate the success of their inspection plans. These systems have helped them to define their future plans.

2.5.4

Reporting: The first reporting exercise has produced a large amount of information showing how the Recommendation is implemented and applied in the Member States. The information is, however, not always comparable. A very clear uniform format for such a reporting system would need to be developed to ensure comparability of the data.

2.5.5

Access to information: the Recommendation states that the inspection plans and the inspection reports should be made available to the public in accordance with the Community Directives in force. The reports have shown that several Member States make neither the inspection plans nor reports available. Information related to environmental inspections is covered by the requirements of Directive 2003/4/EC, so the legal obligation to make the information available exists already. The Directive also gives sufficient grounds for exemptions to refuse access to this information where other overriding interests need to be protected. Appropriate mechanisms will need to be developed to allow this right to be exercised.

2.6   Proposed way forward

In the opinion of the Commission, the lack of full implementation of the Recommendation makes it necessary to consider establishing legally binding requirements for environmental inspections. In addition, there is a need to clarify the general criteria for environmental inspections and to provide further guidance and exchange of information on their implementation. Accordingly, the following actions are proposed:

2.6.1

Revision of the Recommendation: the Recommendation should be seen as a general framework for environmental inspection systems in Member States. Its criteria are of a general nature. Due to this very general and descriptive nature of the criteria, it does not seem appropriate to transform them into legally binding requirements. However, the Recommendation should be amended in order to improve its implementation and strengthen its effectiveness.

2.6.2

Sectoral inspection requirements: In addition to the general criteria for environmental inspections set out in the Recommendation, specific legally binding requirements for the inspection of certain installations or activities should be included in sectoral pieces of legislation. Legally binding requirements are necessary to ensure that a higher political priority is given to inspections and that environmental legislation is better enforced throughout the Community. Sectoral inspection requirements can be complementary to the Recommendation or they can concern installations or activities that are not covered by the Recommendation.

2.6.2.1

As part of the review of the IPPC Directive (7), which is on the 2007 Commission Legislative Work Programme, and based on the analysis of the implementation of this legislation, the Commission will consider ways to secure a better compliance framework to ensure more consistency and confidence in Member States' inspection of IPPC installations.

2.6.2.2

The Commission is considering proposing specific legally binding rules for inspections of waste shipments. Specific criteria should be defined to ensure sufficient quality and frequency of inspections and provide for appropriate training and co-operation among authorities.

2.6.3

Development of guidance and cooperation between Member States: IMPEL has carried out a long list of projects which aim to strengthen the cooperation and encourage the exchange of information between Member States on environmental inspections (8). The Commission has actively supported and participated in these projects. All these initiatives have had a positive impact on the strengthening of inspections in the Community and IMPEL should be encouraged to continue such projects.

3.   General comments

3.1

The EESC welcomes the Commission's Communication on the review of Recommendation 2001/331/EC providing for minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States, and appreciates the efforts (9) made to undertake a study on the application of this Recommendation.

3.2

Environmental inspections constitute an important element of the executive power of each state in environmental protection. It is appropriate that they pay ensure the application of not only national environmental protection policy but also the Community's common principles in environmental policy, in a way which is as balanced as possible, whatever legal entity is given the responsibility for carrying out inspections in a given Member State.

3.3

The EESC is aware that it is vital to strengthen compliance with Community environmental law and to contribute to its more consistent implementation and enforcement in all Member States, to ensure that the agreed and applied minimum criteria contribute to creating a level playing field in the future, in particular with regard to competition.

3.4

The EESC believes that further debate with stakeholders regarding the communication will offer insights necessary for creating an optimal framework for inspection activities, which will be both clear and well enforced throughout the Community.

4.   Specific comments

4.1

The recommendation must be absolutely clear and comprehensible for effective implementation. The EESC is therefore delighted that the Commission intends to draw attention to this point.

4.1.1

The EESC believes that it is essential that the scope of environmental inspections is well defined, covering important problem areas, without undermining the flexibility of the inspection systems or specific national approaches. However, only those national approaches that are required under specific national objectives for environmental protection should be applied.

4.1.2

Whenever specific Community legislative acts provide for inspection activities, these should be governed by a specific legislative act, to avoid differences of interpretation.

4.1.3

It can be seen from the Communication that differences in the definition, clarity and uniformity of terms are of major importance for the harmonisation of inspection activities across the whole territory of the Community and for providing a level playing field. If uniform application of the Recommendation is to be achieved, it is absolutely essential that the basic terms are precisely defined in order to allow harmonisation and to establish links to other legislation.

4.1.4

The EESC therefore also draws attention to the fact that there are many other examples of the use of these terms in other community legislation, for which the definition varies from one act to another. The definition of terms will therefore generally require closer attention.

4.2

In addition, the EESC considers it essential to determine the criteria for planning, carrying out, following up and reporting on inspections, while also preserving the necessary flexibility for specific inspection activities to be undertaken. A reporting system that is as simple and clear as possible should be established to provide comparable information on how inspection systems function and whether they achieve the objective of improving compliance with environmental legislation.

4.3

The use of modern management methods should be recommended for the system for managing the inspection activities, as such methods have shown positive results in some Member States. These methods would help focus inspection activities on key areas of importance for environmental protection, improve planning and could also contribute to the sustainable improvement of environmental protection.

4.4

The EESC recommends further standardisation in access to information in accordance with current Community legislation to respect the specific level of access to information in the Member States. The provision of such information should not hamper the inspection activities and the information provided should give an overall picture of the facts uncovered by the inspection, the necessary corrective measures and details of their implementation.

4.5

The EESC agrees with the Commission's view that the general framework for environmental inspection systems in Member States should remain in the form of a Recommendation. Indeed, given the very general and descriptive nature of the criteria, it does not seem appropriate to transform them into legally binding requirements. However, in order to improve its implementation and strengthen its effectiveness, the Recommendation should be amended.

4.6

This opinion is based on the fact that a considerable amount of current and forthcoming Community legislation includes conditions and criteria for carrying out inspection activities specific to particular sectors. This legislation means that the inspection activity, its implementation and methodology, are legally binding across the whole of the EU.

4.7

The EESC considers that the IMPEL network must be supported if international cooperation is to be further strengthened. The network has drawn up many documents with guidelines for planning and carrying out inspections. In addition, the network has organised exchanges of information and experience between inspectors. The professional activities of the IMPEL network could contribute a considerable amount, in particular through specific projects, as was the case in the past. IMPEL might play a useful role in facilitation of common training and professional development. It might also be useful to develop a central unit for the compilation of Europe — wide statistics and other information instruments about inspection and enforcement activities throughout Europe.

Brussels, 22 April 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  OJ L 118, 27.4.2001, p. 41.

(2)  Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 on shipments of waste, OJ L 190, 12.7.2006, p. 1.

(3)  Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), establishing a European Chemicals Agency, amending Directive 1999/45/EC and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 793/93 and Commission Regulation No 1488/94 as well as Council Directive 76/769/EEC and Commission Directives 91/155/EEC, 93/67/EEC, 93/105/EC and 2000/21/EC, OJ L 396, 30.12.2006, p. 1.

(4)  Directive 2002/95/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, OJ L 37, 13.2.2003, p. 19.

(5)  Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein, OJ L 61, 3.3.1997, p. 1.

(6)  One example of such an approach is the UK Operator and Pollution Risk Appraisal (OPRA) system.

(7)  Directive 96/61/EC on the prevention and control of pollution.

(8)  For further information see the IMPEL website:

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/impel/index.htm.

(9)  Commission Staff Working Paper — on the application of Recommendation 2001/331/EC providing for minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States.