A healthy EU policy environment to feed us in 2013?

Much to the chagrin of those who believe better regulation is less regulation, if there’s one thing that Brussels does well it’s churn out rules. The global economy may tank, the wheels may fall off the banking system but those who lunch on legislation are generally well fed in this town. None more so than the Committee where I spent some time as a young lad, the European Parliament’s prodigious Environment Committee (ENVI). According to that august body, ENVI  accounted for around 20% of all co-decision files in both the 1999-2004 and the 2004-2009 legislatures, making it the largest legislative committee in Parliament in terms of legislative through put.

So a few weeks ago I was slightly worried when upon preparing for a Britcham event, I took a glance at the latest ITER listing for the Environment Committee. (For those of you who are not familiar, the ITER listing is a handy document that prevents you having to bother poor EP secretariat people with calls for information on what’s happening when in Committee quite so often.) At the time the legislative cupboard seemed pretty bare; own initiative reports (endocrine disruptors anyone?) on road maps, action plans and fitness checks but little in terms of legislation.  I remarked upon this to an MEP from the Environment Committee in attendance at the event. He replied that this was one of the reasons he was spending time in his other committee, where there was a legislative debate that he could really sink his teeth into.

Fear not. With the end of this Parliament fast approaching – we’re about to enter its last full calendar year – and thoughts turning from arcane EU policy to the politics of getting re-elected, recent times have seen a replenishment of supplies. Yesterday saw the much talked about changes to the Fuel Quality Directive and Renewable Energy Directive to account for the alleged ill-effects of certain biofuels. While the latter was an ITRE competence the former was ENVI last time around. So expect a bun fight over competence this time. Other dossiers have in recent weeks begun to catch the attention. The Commission’s ETS backloading proposal with its desire to have both the legislative change and the comitology process done by the start of the third phase (1 January 2013) have already provoked debate inside the two legislative bodies. Of course the CO2 in cars dossier that’s just kicking off has its fair share of challenges both within the automotive sector as well as without. Not to mention the issue of f-gases, which is due from the Commission in the course of November, and already attracting media comment on leaked drafts and industry cries.

No doubt the rush to get proposals out to allow for agreement before the elections is playing its usual role in Commission thinking. Sadly it makes for a heady cocktail of increasing politicization and lack of time to think. (It’s worth noting peaks of co-decision files in the last year of each of the last two Parliaments in this document on this point.) My only question: is the result the equivalent of a legislative hangover? It felt like fun at the time, but later one feels the ill-effects. What we can be sure of is that debates shall be between those who advocate that such rules will spur ‘eco-innovation’ and ‘green growth’, while others shall complain that they’re only just getting used to the current rules and that all this regulatory uncertainty at a time of economic crisis is only likely to push those with Yuan/Yen/Rubles/Dollars to invest them elsewhere.

All this to say we won’t be going hungry for a while yet. However, this may well be the last sitting where there’s still  good food on table. Previous sittings have fattened us up somewhat and one may expect that the Commission annual work programme, due 23rd October, and those that follow it to see environmental policy going on a diet. But that perhaps is the subject for another post.