March 29, 2020 | News | No Comments
The European Commission is preparing a defence of its claim to take the lead for the European Union in international negotiations on the environment.
The Commission has been quarrelling for months with the Council of Ministers over which institution should lead for the EU in international environment talks. Essentially a row over how to interpret the Lisbon treaty, the dispute came to a head this month when the EU went to a five-day United Nations conference to discuss banning mercury unable to take part in the negotiations, because it had not agreed who should be in charge.
Karl Falkenberg, the Commission’s director-general for environment told European Voice that the issue had to be solved by January 2011 at the latest. His department and the secretariat-general have drafted a paper setting out how the Commission reads the treaty, which was due to be sent to ambassadors from the member states this week.
“The treaty is very clear: the EU can only be represented by the Commission,” said Falkenberg, insisting that this was “not about getting new competence for the EU”.
Taking the lead
Member states have argued that the Lisbon treaty, which came into force on 1 December, changes little. They argue that because law-making on the environment is shared between national administrations and the EU, the country that holds the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers should continue to take the lead in international negotiations, not the Commission.
Falkenberg countered that, according to the treaty, EU competence exists where there is extensive EU legislation, thus giving the Commission the lead role.
“I don’t know whether they [the environment ministries] have not really followed or read the treaty but they seem to be missing this point…the treaty doesn’t say that exclusive competence is only trade or competition or agriculture or things like that. Exclusive competence is also everything that affects existing internal legislation.”
The UN talks on mercury were a clear example of EU competence because there is “extensive [EU] legislation in this area on marketing, the handling of mercury waste, transport [and] trading”, he said, though he stressed that financial contributions from member states would remain a matter of national competence.
The director-general conceded that other areas where EU and national legislation co-exist might be less clear-cut. The EU would have to study each international convention on an “ad hoc, case-by-case basis” to see where the dividing line between EU competence and national competence should be drawn and which institution should lead.
For many environment ministries, mercury is a proxy battle about international climate-change talks. They would regard the Commission taking the lead on mercury as an unwelcome precedent.
The EU had not been “damaged yet” by its internal dispute, Falkenberg said. But the issue had to be resolved by the end of January 2011, when more intensive mercury negotiations get under way. January “is the outer limit, but we will try to do it faster,” he said.
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