Public exposure to electromagnetic fields: Commission's answer to parliamentary question

April 15, 2002

Strasbourg, 12 April 2002

Verbatim report of proceedings, 11 April 2002 (Annex)

Question no 63 by Patricia McKenna (H-0260/02)
Subject: Public exposure to electromagnetic fields

The Commission has just issued an implementation report on Council Recommendation 1999/59/EC limiting public exposure to electromagnetic fields. The Council Recommendation of July 1999 asks Member States to adopt a protection framework based on the Recommendation into their national legislation and implement measures according to this framework.

Would the Commission consider introducing a common legislatory framework to compel Member States to comply with the best safety practices and remedy the disparity?

In the implementation report, Ireland states that it has submitted a revised Planning and Development Act in November 2001. However, Ireland fails to mention that this revision actually exempts companies erecting mobile phone masts from planning permission. This will in fact reduce the level of protection of the public and it loosens the regulatory framework for mobile phone masts. Is the Commission satisfied that it meets the demands set out above in the Council Recommendation?

Answer

The Honourable Member's question refers to the Community framework established by the Council Recommendation of 12th July 1999 limiting the exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields. The scope of this Recommendation covers the whole spectrum of non-ionising radiation, including emissions from devices such as mobile telephone systems.

It calls on Member States to adopt the proposed set of limit values and to implement the measures necessary in order to limit exposure of the public to the levels given in the Recommendation.

The constant development in the use of electricity, and in particular the rapid development of mobile telecommunications systems, including the installation of transmitter masts, has given rise to some public concern. The Commission is very much aware of this, and the Recommendation just referred to addresses these concerns in a very comprehensive way, based on the opinion of leading experts and relevant European committees. However, as a Council Recommendation is not a binding legal instrument, Member States may adopt higher or lower levels of protection. Given the limitations of the EC Treaty, and in particular of Art. 152 on public health which explicitly excludes, with very few exceptions, any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of Member States, the Community cannot adopt legislation in this area based on public health grounds.

However, at European level there are other binding instruments which effectively limit total body exposure to non-ionising radiation, and which compel Member States to comply with the best safety practices. Firstly, the Council Recommendation invites the Commission to work towards the establishment of European standards of compliance with the recommended basic restrictions. This is currently done within the framework of the mandate M/305 given to Cenelec, the European standardisation organisation for electrical equipment. This mandate derives directly from the Directives on low voltage and radio terminal and telecommunications equipment. On this basis Cenelec will develop standards which will replace conflicting national standards and ensure that eventually all devices emitting non-ionising radiation put on the market will meet the limits set up by the Council Recommendation. The first standard on mobile telephones was published in June 2001, and the standard on base stations is expected by July 2002.

Secondly, Union legislation governing radio products, including mobile telephone masts, obliges manufacturers to ensure that they are safe. Directive 1999/5/EC on Radio Equipment and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment obliges manufacturers to ensure that their products do not have an adverse effect on health and enables national authorities to impose restrictions on the use of radio products, e.g. by prescribing minimum distances from the public, so as to ensure that telephone masts are appropriately installed.

Therefore, beyond the provisions of the Council Recommendation, European standards and Community legislative provisions ensure that existing disparities will be remedied.

In general, the Irish implementation report demonstrates the willingness to take into account the limits recommended at Community level. The present lack of specific measures regarding planning permission should not be seen as an obstacle to the achievement of the Council Recommendation's objectives. In fact, total body exposure will depend on the local power of each base station.

>From a Commission perspective, therefore, we are not primarily concerned with Member States' systems for granting planning permissions. The Commission is concerned about ensuring that the limit values which are set in the Council Recommendation, and which are reflected in the Cenelec standards, are respected. When this is the case the Honourable Member's concerns regarding the level of public protection and maintaining an appropriate regulatory framework are effectively addressed.

The future European standard for base stations will define the conditions for putting antennas into service, taking into account other existing installations and their emissions. It will thereby ensure that in all cases, the recommended limits are not exceeded.

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