More so than perhaps any other policy area, environment is an amalgam of international, EU and domestic measures, although new environmental legislation is still a shared competence.
We might expect an independent policy to concentrate more on the national interest, although the Government’s Review of the Balance of Competences does draw attention to the difficulty of defining the national interest. This is further complicated by the strong national support for EU environmental laws. National, EU and international interests are difficult to separate.
During a referendum campaign, we need to be aware that promises to slash environmental laws could alienate the “green” lobby and reduce support for an EU exit. Thus, we need to reassure voters that the bulk of environmental law will be kept in place until there has been a “national conversation” on the direction post-exit policy should take.
Furthermore, if we choose the EEA route (Norway option), there is little flexibility in the shorter term to change environmental law. Most legislation is of “EEA relevance”. It will have to be carried over or, where necessary, re-enacted without change.
However, that does not stop us from “chipping away” at the more obtrusive and expensive laws, without dismantling the EU’s programme. Listed by the European Commission, this covers eleven headings, including: tackling climate change; sustainable development; waste management; air pollution; water protection and management; and noise pollution.
But before there can be effective and representative policy-making in these areas, a major imbalance in the debate must be addressed, where “stakeholders” are very often powerful, international environmental NGOs.
What is not generally realised is the extent to which environmental NGOs and other “civil society” organisations are funded directly or indirectly by the EU. The UK might need to curtail their activities. It would not be sensible to withdraw from the EU without doing this.
After 40 years of integration, though, environmental policy is delivered by a single, integrated system, working as one – through which global initiatives are also channelled. Removal of the EU component would leave a non-functional system, so it will have to be rebuilt before complete separation can be achieved.
Thus, rapid detachment from the EU is clearly not a practical option. Nor, across the board, is it desirable. No moves should be taken unless or until we are certain of what is involved, allowing assessments to be made of the possible consequences of removal, the advantages and disadvantages. These things, rather than the origin of any measure, may need to be the guide to action.
This link was originally published by Ben Kelly on 29 March 2016