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How British Labour MEPs Built 1990s EU Environment Policy

Anita Pollack

Anita Pollack

Anita Pollack consults Ken Colllins

Ken Collins and Anita Pollack in September 1991. Sir Ken Collins chaired Parliament’s Environment Committee for the exceptionally long period of 15 years; he was later the chairman of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

During the 1990s one of the most influential committees was Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection, under the chairmanship of Britain’s Ken Collins. We had the busiest legislative agendas of any of the European Parliament Committees. And while environmental sustainability was not formally included into the EU treaties until the Lisbon treaty (2009), pressure from MEPs ensured that there was tacit acceptance of the need for environmental protection as early as the Single European Act in 1986.

The legislation we were dealing with included drinking water and bathing water standards, the Water Framework Directive (2000), air pollution monitoring and limits, waste recycling, toxic waste from the chemical industry such as emissions from large combustion plants, and export of dangerous waste. Although the first directive on protection of wild birds came as early as 1979, it was not until 1992 that Parliament achieved the directive on conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora. The first major work was done on limiting harmful vehicle emissions during those years. There were veterinary safety issues, work to reduce agricultural emissions, plus setting up a European Environment Agency and later the Medicines Agency. MEPs, with great input from British Labour members, were grappling with climate change, energy saving and the possibilities of energy taxes. They also brought pressure to bear for a directive on freedom of access to environmental information (2003) following the Aarhus Convention of 1998 and attempted, in budget debates, to cut subsidies on harmful items such as tobacco. Animal welfare campaigns included a lengthy battle to reduce cosmetic testing on animals and a protracted campaign to ban seal fur imports because of the cruelty involved in trapping methods. Parliament was grappling with the advent of GMOs and members of the environment committee tabled hundreds of amends to the White Paper on Biotechnology, advocating the precautionary principle.

Britain’s Phillip Whitehead was committed to better consumer protection legislation, and another Labour MEP, Pauline Green, cut her parliamentary teeth campaigning for a wide-ranging food hygiene directive before becoming leader of the Socialist Group. There was a range of legislation at that time on food safety, food colouring, food labelling, food irradiation and food additives that has become the bedrock of today’s legislation.

New Labour in Europe: Leadership and Lost Opportunities by Anita Pollack - Book Cover

Anita Pollack’s latest book New Labour in Europe: Leadership and Lost Opportunities shows how Labour MEPs trying to work with socialist colleagues could find themselves undermined by the party back in the UK, where enthusiasm for Europe was often distinctly lukewarm.

Some of this work is included in my book on the history of Labour MEPs 1979 – 99, titled “Wreckers or Builders?”.

A Labour MEP for 10 years (1989-1999), Anita Pollack has since written articles for a number of publications as well as producing two books: Wreckers or Builders? A History of Labour MEPs 1979 – 1999 and more recently New Labour in Europe: Leadership and Lost Opportunities. More information about Anita can be found on her website, www.anitapollack.eu.

Editor: Eliot Scott-Faulkner

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