Friday, July 27, 2007

Caroline Lucas MEP's Blog

Caroline Lucas' blog, on the UK's Guardian newspaper web site, is a good place to talk about EU environment policy. The UK Green MEP is well-known as one of the most articulate leaders of the environmentalist movement, and her postings are thoughtful and thought-provoking.

The most recent one (dated March 2007) is about the fundamental contradiction between the EU-US Open Skies agreement's goal of increasing air travel across the Atlantic and the carbon emissions cutting goal of EU environment policy. Commentators have pointed out that this is a classic case of non-joined-up thinking. The parts of the EU machine that care about air transport lead the dance on air transport policy. And the parts of the EU machine that care about the environment lead the dance on environment policy. And what you end up with is bound not to be as coherent as it might be.

The mechanics of this are interesting. Consider this scenario: The Commission's DG TREN (transport & energy) comes up with policy proposals for legislation liberalising air transport in Europe. These are the fruit of public consultations that have elicited reactions primarily from direct stakeholders in the air transport industry. The DG's proposals are run through an "interservice" procedure in the Commission, during which all the other DGs are supposed to be able to submit objections and propose changes. But this doesn't happen as much as it should, because the Environment Commissioner knows that the Transport Commissioner will block his next initiative if he blocks this one. The proposal is then published with minimal changes, and sent to the EP and Council for co-decision. The EP committee dealing with it specialises in transport and not environment. It likes the idea of liberalising the sector, and delivers a positive recommendation to the plenary, which follows the lead of its expert committee. After all, they are the experts, right? In the Council, the dossier is taken through the Transport Council, populated by transport ministers and transport officials at the lower levels. And this Transport Council, together with the EP led by its in-house transport experts, delivers a piece of legislation that liberalises the sector. It may even be a very good piece of legislation. But the most powerful, institutional avenues for getting environmental concerns heard are marginalised at best. The NGOs are left struggling to lobby transport-minded MEPs and transport-minded officials and ministers.

What happens when a piece of environmental legislation goes through co-decision? Exactly the same, but the tables are turned. Now the NGOs are in the driving seat, and industry is struggling to get its voice heard.

It's a pretty fundamental problem with the way decision making is structured in all the institutions, and it results in all-or-nothing outcomes like REACH on the one hand (which is regarded as catastrophic by industry), and Open Skies on the other (regarded as catastrophic by Greens like Caroline Lucas).

Anyway, this is supposed to be a post about that blog, and not a rant about the deficiencies of the EU decision-making process. But the fact that I have gone off on the rant is evidence enough that Ms. Lucas' blog gets you thinking. The quality of comments is relatively high, especially when compared to the propagandist and ideological stuff that afflicts blogs like that of Commissioner Wallstrom!

My only regret is that her postings are so far apart - her last one was in March 2007, and her last 10 go back as far as May 2006. My last 10 go back all of a week! So much good thought in that head of yours, Caroline, and so little of it shared with your readers! Give us more!

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