Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen: A New Start for Lisbon, REACH and Other Topics, Environment Committee of the European Parliament

February 9, 2005

Brussels, 3rd February 2005

Mr President,

ladies and gentlemen,

I should like to thank you most warmly for this invitation to speak to you about the priorities and preoccupations we share in our work and for the fact that our cooperation up to now has been so constructive and problem free. I think it is important to clarify matters in good time in order to forestall conflict and ensure that no misunderstandings arise in the first place. My aim, therefore, is to deal with the various questions in greater depth through an exchange of ideas. I should like to talk about three points by way of introduction:

  • first, the new direction for the Lisbon process, on which I presented our contribution yesterday together with President Barroso;
  • second, the REACH project, which is now to be the subject of major decisions in Parliament following the successful hearing;
  • third, the legislative projects and initiatives that urgently call for swift decisions.
1. Lisbon – the situation so far

The Commission has set itself the objective of giving fresh impetus to the Lisbon process. With this aim in view we have carefully examined all the various proposals and analyses, and yesterday we presented our conclusions. I see this, incidentally, as an important and visible achievement resulting from intensive cooperation in the new groups of Commission Members.

If we want to get this five year old process back on track, we must set clear priorities. The aims pursued in recent years have simply been too varied and not enough real progress has been made. The economic process has not yet got back up to speed and the excessive level of unemployment is still one of the priority issues for the people of Europe. What we need, therefore, are more jobs and a higher growth rate in Europe. This means that we must create an innovative and attractive environment for our businesses on the one hand and for people as employees and consumers on the other. Only in this way will we be able to improve the foundations for genuinely sustainable development.

This turnaround will not least require contributions from the Member Staten in the form of national “job and growth programmes”, coordinated if possible by a nationally appointed “Mr Lisbon”. The Commission, for its part, will tighten up the reporting obligation – which is threatening to get out of hand – and at the same time prevent the reporting process from becoming a mere window dressing exercise with no competitive element.

I would like to stress once more, however, that these priorities do not mean that we are renouncing the ecological aspects of the Lisbon strategy, but rather that we are heeding the fact that we must first catch up in these areas. It would be a fundamental mistake to think that growth and ecology are incompatible – indeed, the opposite is the case. Achieving growth and environmental objectives are two sides of the same coin. For example, environmental technologies for increasing energy efficiency or reducing CO2 emissions are absolute growth sectors on the one hand, while on the other their development and application have positive effects on the environment.

As we in the EU see it: if something is ecologically wrong, it cannot be economically right.

2. REACH

The second main topic this year alongside the Lisbon process and the improvement of competitiveness will surely be the REACH project. The hearing on this project was very positive and constructive from the Commission’s viewpoint. The European Parliament has shown that it can set the right priorities and organise such a milestone in the legislative process. I would like to congratulate the President, the Rapporteur and all the Members and staff of the Committee once more. Obviously what you need to do now, ladies and gentlemen, is to draw the right conclusions.

During the hearings here in Parliament a whole series of interrelated questions were discussed. They included the setting of priorities, the avoidance of animal testing, the organisation of joint use of data and the possible discontinuation of the use of certain substances. Let me go into these questions briefly:

  • First there is the future work on impact assessment, which will provide information on the possible discontinuation of the use of certain substances and the burden on the individual operators in the supply chain, and particularly SMEs.
  • As for the practicability of the REACH system, everything possible should be done to improve the proposal for a Regulation still further in this respect. The thinking behind the “OSOR” principle (One Substance – One Registration) proposed by the United Kingdom and Hungary would provide one possibility. The current OSOR proposal will, however, have to be revised if the aim of practicability is actually to be achieved.
  • Then there is the important question of setting priorities, which will not only save costs if a practicable and efficient approach is adopted, but could also contribute to the health and environmental objectives of the system.
  • Another central issue is the avoidance of animal testing, which I emphatically support. The sharing and common use of information from testing on vertebrates is already provided for in the Commission’s proposal. In my view, we need a strategy for developing alternative test methods and promoting their acceptance.
The points I have mentioned are obviously not the whole story. I therefore look forward with excitement to the future discussions, which are sure to throw up many more questions. These will need to be solved in a way that strikes a balance between competitiveness and the protection of users and the environment, and we will all have to group the questions together as quickly and completely as possible in the various subject areas so as to avoid fragmentation of the debate.

You can count on the Commission’s full support in your deliberations, since ultimately only close cooperation between Parliament, the Council and the Commission will permit a successful decision making process. Close cooperation will also help the Commission to draw up an amended proposal, which it will present after the first reading.

3. Prospects for further specific priorities

We have already overcome a few initial hurdles in this parliamentary term. For example, your Committee has, with a clear majority, pronounced itself in favour of the proposal for legislation on reusability and recyclability of motor vehicles, and I would like to thank you and your rapporteur for this. However, there are still important matters before us this year, and I would like to mention a few of them.

Medicinal products in paediatrics

First, the availability and use of medicinal products in paediatrics. I think the Commission’s proposal for a Regulation is a good example of how we can play an active part in improving the lives of the general public. Why do we need a Regulation of this kind? Unlike medicinal products for adults, more than 50% of the products administered to children in the EU have not been tested or approved for this specific use. This has come about because the market for medicinal products for children is relatively small compared with the general market for medicinal products, and it is difficult to conduct studies involving children. Our proposal is intended to remedy this situation while at the same time taking account of the competitiveness of the pharmaceutical industry.

I very much hope I can look forward to close and fruitful cooperation with Parliament. If we take a constructive approach to the legislative process we may even be able to have the proposal adopted after the first reading so that our children can reap the benefits of the Regulation as soon as possible.

Human Tissue Engineering

Another area of direct relevance to patients is the use of human tissue. “Human Tissue Engineering”, as it is known, is an important area of biotechnology that focuses on the regeneration of human tissue. This could mean new and improved treatments. The different national rules, however, are an obstacle to cross border access to these innovative therapies.

The Commission therefore wishes to propose harmonisation of the authorisation procedures. Products of this kind must meet the highest standard as regards quality, safety and effectiveness. This calls for special test requirements. We are planning to present a proposal for a Regulation as soon as possible, perhaps even before the summer break.

Automobile industry

Now to another sector that is of great importance for Europe’s competitiveness and sustainable development: the European automobile industry. Admittedly, this industry still has a strong position on the world markets and in technological innovation, but we must make some efforts if we are not to fall behind. For this reason, I recently announced the establishment of a high level group (CARS 21) with the task of coming up with ideas and recommendations for improving the competitiveness of Europe’s automobile industry.

I would stress that the aim of the group is not to turn the clock back where environmental questions relating to motor vehicles are concerned. On the contrary, the Group should contribute to reducing pollution and to improving road safety and the competitiveness of the industry. I would also stress that, in my view, the automobile industry in the EU will remain competitive only if it offers better technology, better quality and better services.

In this connection I would draw attention to the position paper I presented two weeks ago. The background is that some Member States want to introduce financial incentives for diesel fuelled cars. The Commission, however, wants to avoid fragmentation of the internal market as a result of different limit values. We therefore propose, as a guide, a limit of 5 mg/km, which in our view is realistic and justified. In practice this means that diesel filters must be fitted in order to benefit from such financial incentives.

GMES - Global Monitoring for Environment and Security

Finally, another subject of relevance for the future. As we all know, environmental problems do not stop at borders. Europe must therefore focus on the need for measuring and monitoring systems and standardised documentation that will meet future requirements. A system of this kind is being developed in the form of GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) – another very ambitious Community project after GALILEO.

The first common datasets are very promising. There is a wide range of potential applications, from modelling nitrate pollution in rivers, to environmental impact assessments for cross border transport projects and searching for sites for renewable energy sources.

Additional information services for an improved environment policy that GMES will provide concern the combating of oil spills, climate reporting, soil protection and land use planning, air quality and UV radiation, or reducing the use of chemicals in agriculture. Europe will also want to be more involved in international programmes such as warning systems for natural disasters.

Major efforts will be needed if we are to have highly accurate and up to date information of this kind permanently available. This is what GMES is for and I therefore call on you to support it.

Animal testing

Finally, I would like to return to a subject that I have already mentioned briefly – the problem of animal testing. In my capacity as Member of the Commission responsible for industry, and above all in the chemical, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, animal testing is a very important matter. I regard it as a great and important responsibility in this capacity that I will be able, with initiative and insistence, and without delay, to help keep attention focused on the problem of such testing, to reduce the need for it as far as possible, while at the same time vigorously supporting the search for alternatives. I intend this year to convene an international scientific conference in Brussels primarily to discuss this search for alternatives. I would be particularly pleased if this conference could be organised in close cooperation with the European Parliament.

Conclusions and thanks

I know what a wide range of subjects your Committee deals with and I have obviously not dealt with many important matters in this brief introduction – or at least not in sufficient depth. I hope, however, that I have been able to highlight a few points, and we now have time to discuss them in detail.

Thank you for your attention.

Item source: SPEECH/05/72 Date: 03/02/2005

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