The first salvo came from Ken Collins, chairman of the European parliament's environmental committee. 'This Commission is uninspiring, uninteresting and unconvincing - its members have no imagination,' he said, having listened to the Commissioner for the Environment, Ioannis Paleokrassas, defend the institution.
'In the 1980s, arguments about the cost of not integrating Europe led to the internal market,' he added. 'The argument for the 1990s has to be the cost of not integrating environmental policy, because we can see it before us in Eastern Europe. We know if you don't deal responsibly with the environment you can cripple whole economies and devastate whole areas.'
In debate, MEPs of all parties had joined in attacking the Commission with unusual aggression, accusing it of half-heartedness, of shirking its responsibilities and of failing to live up to its promises.
In its defence, Mr Paleokrassas outlined some of the advances and complained the Commission had been unjustly maligned. 'I know the cost of failing to implement an environmental policy will be the death of the human race,' he said.
The debate underscores a deepening sense of despair among environmental experts. There is particular concern that disillusionment in the EC with the European ideal and the attempts to contain that by devolving power back to the most appropriate level of government have made the Commission a less effective instrument of change.
The MEPs are pushing for the Commission to adopt a more integrated approach to policy, to test all policy against environmental standards. Not all departments are keen. There is particular concern, for example, that the pounds 128bn earmarked until 1999 for regional spending and infrastructure development in the EC's poorest countries will not be properly 'green-tested', despite Mr Paleokrassas's assertion yesterday he had established a special committee to do that.
In December 1992, the member states adopted the so-called Fifth Action programme for the environment - a legislative framework for the future. The European parliament is anxious to press the Commission for a timetable for its implementation and managed to extract a garbled commitment from Mr Paleokrassas yesterday to draw one up.
Lack of action is not just the fault of the Commission. Member states have been unable to decide where to site the environmental protection agency, whose establishment they agreed three years ago was an urgent priority. Denmark, which took over the EC presidency in January with a promise to put environmental protection top of the agenda, has failed to table any significant initiative.
As one of the new intake of commissioners, who only took office at the beginning of the year, Mr Paleokrassas is still finding his feet, and his detractors are probably prepared to give him a little more time. But he will have to start delivering soon.Reuse content