Transparent law making

3rd February 2011

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Most of our environmental legislation has its origins in Brussels but how do we know that EU Directives get properly transposed into national law? The answer is "with great difficulty", says Chris Davies, Lib Dem environment spokesman.

Although it’s a legal requirement, governments are under no obligation to publish details of how it is done. The European Parliament (EP) is now going into battle over the issue.

Making sure that EU laws are applied equally and effectively is important both for the environment and for business.

When failures are detected, the European Commission can haul a recalcitrant country before the European Court of Justice to force improvement, but the legal processes are slow and cumbersome. Persuasion is always the preferred option.

The first task for a commission offi cial or an environmental activist is to get the facts. And there lies the rub.

How do you fi nd out what has been done? The solution is for member states to publish “correlation tables” (really implementation tables). These show, clause by clause, how the different elements of an EU Directive have been transposed into national legislation; and how the one correlates with the other.

The commission now routinely inserts this requirement in all draft legislation. The Council of Ministers, representing EU governments, routinely insists on deleting it.

MEPs are now warning that legislative negotiations will be withdrawn unless countries accept the tables. This has forced the issue onto the council’s agenda.

A paper being circulated by the Presidency points out that most member states already produce the tables for their own use, they simply do not publish them.

A fight about “correlation tables” is hardly likely to seize the public’s imagination, but victory will bring change for the better all the same.

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