A new lease on environmental urgency

Publish date: October 4, 2004

Written by: Siri Engesæth

Stavros Dimas, the European Commissioner for the Environment nominee from Greece, faced the European Parliament Wednesday for a question and answer session on his environmental policies. Foremost on the Parliament’s mind was the question: Can Dimas turn the page from the Prodi Environmental Commission’s final mistake of misinterpreting financial mechanisms available to environmental NGOs?


“Environmental policy is in a difficult time” answered Dimas to a question posed by Liberal Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Chris Davies about whether his nomination as Environmental Commissioner could be seen as a downgrade for European environmental policies. “But, no I will not see it as degrading the importance.”

Rough financial times and the urgency surrounding security issues has turned the environmental effort toward survival and job security. The present Dutch presidential administration exemplifies this in its interpretation of the Lisbon-strategy on pervasive competitiveness that treat environmental concerns as a question of “what the environment can do for the economy.”

This was precisely how the issue was interpreted at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) annual conference last week. Clearly, there are difficult times ahead for the incoming Environmental Commissioner.

Margot Wahlstrøm, who resigned the post, obtained a strong international position as the front-person for the European Commission climate initiative. Unfortunately one of the last decisions of the Prodi-Commission was its dubious interpretation of financial mechanisms in relation to environmental organisations.

Under Prodi, the Commission’s interpretation of Financial Regulation, as it applies to environmental NGOs, is questionable. The requirement to “gradually decrease” renewed grants—according to the EU charter’s Article 113, Paragraph 2— applies to operational grants provided on the basis of “basic acts with regard to bodies pursuing an objective of general European interest,” unless such an act specifies that such decreases are not foreseen.

However, environmental organisations are not sponsored on the basis of such basic acts, nor do they belong to that category of organisation of general European interest. Instead, they are sponsored on the basis of another mechanism, namely actions “intended to help achieve an objective forming part of a European Union policy,”

Can the nominated Environmental Commissioner Dimas change this if he manages to breathe new life into the European Commission from an environmental perspective?

Dimas could perhaps follow in the footsteps of his countryman, former Commissioner of Nuclear and Environmental Affairs from 1993 to 1994, Yannis Paleokrassas. Paleokrassas managed to put the massive environmental threat of potential nuclear contamination from Northwest Russia on the European Union agenda. That initiative has led to concrete clean-up projects and well as the European Union Northern Dimension programme.