WEEE Directive recast – explaining the EU legislative process

Big changes to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive are essential if we are to mitigate the environmental and health risks posed by e-waste. With the EU expecting to generate around 12 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment per year by 2020, we are hoping that a bold approach in addressing the looming e-waste crisis will be taken. Currently only one third of e-waste collected in the EU is being treated according to the requirements of legislation. The rest goes to landfill (13%) and potentially to sub-standard treatment inside or outside the EU (54%). Illegal trade to non-EU countries is still widespread.

However, while the issue itself is clear enough, making a change to a European Directive is far from being a clear or simple procedure. There are numerous stages and procedures to get amendments pushed through. We’ve outlined below the process so far, including the latest developments (which happened just a few days ago) and the next steps to (we hope!) simplify matters.

The revision process was initiated by the Commission in 2008 but it’s actually the Council and the European Parliament (‘EP’) who must adopt the revised directive. It may help to explain what each institution does before jumping into the nitty gritty of the legislative process itself.

The Commission simply acts here like a UK government department: proposing changes but not actually adopting the law on its own (sometimes the Commission adopt directives and other EU legislation on its own but it can only do so if authorised by the Council and the EP).

The Council is composed of representatives of all 27 Member States. Unlike the Commission which is composed of civil servants employed by the European Union, the Council is staffed on a day-to-day basis by diplomats from the 27 member states, each representing the interests of, and taking instructions from, their own government. Periodically, the Council meets at ministerial level to take the trickiest or toughest decisions on legislation but most of the detailed negotiations are left to the diplomats.

The EP works in the following way: it has several committees dealing with different areas of policy. When the EP is sent a proposal from the Commission (for a new law or to recast an existing one),  the relevant committee will write a report to MEPs advising them which parts of the proposals they should adopt and which they should not. Broadly the Committee reflects the strength of different parties in the EP. So the report usually reflects the majority view. Once the report is finalised, the MEPs will then formally vote to accept or reject it.

Adopting a new WEEE directive involves something called the Ordinary Legislative Procedure (you may have seen it referred to as the ‘Co-decision Procedure’ prior to the latest EU treaty: the Lisbon Treaty). This involves 2 stages (which in legal jargon are called ‘readings’). In each reading both the EP and the Council have to agree for the Directive to be passed.

We have already been through its ‘first reading’ – initially in the EP in February 2011 and subsequently in the Council in March 2011. Both considered the Commission’s initial proposal issued in 2008, so it has been a slow process! The Commission is obliged to give its view on both the EP and Council positions which it has done, most recently commenting on the Council’s position on 16th August 2011.

As the EP and the Council disagreed with each other, the directive couldn’t be adopted at first reading. The next and final stage (known as a ‘second reading’) again involves both institutions. The EP now has 3 months to consider the Council‘s text (from the 16 August).

The relevant EP committee is due to adopt a report on the 4th October 2011, recommending a text that all MEPs will vote on (a fixed date for the vote has not yet been set). A draft of this report is already available at this link: http://bit.ly/nUVRGi and due to be discussed on 8th September 2011 with a view to being adopted by 4th October 2011. As mentioned, the report is merely a recommendation to MEPs. MEPs have three options: accept the Council’s position (in which case the measure is adopted), reject it outright (in which case the process is over) or, as usually happens, they may amend the Council’s text.

If the EP makes changes to the Council’s text, the EP text goes back to the Council. In the event that the Council does not accept the text, a Conciliation Committee will be established. This committee will be composed of an equal number of representatives of the Council and the EP chaired by the Commission to try to agree a compromise. Any compromise has to be put to each institution which will either pass or reject the compromise.

So that’s how the EU legislative procedure applies to the recast of the WEEE Directive…. in a nutshell! We hope it assists those interesting in following the process understand to how the WEEE Directive is being recast.

Computer Aid put together a special report on the WEEE recast last year, setting out what changes need to be made to allay the environmental and health risks posed by e-waste.  You can find the report at this link: http://www.computeraid.org/uploads/Special-Report-2.pdf

For more information on Computer Aid’s work relating to ICT’s and the Environment click here

Anja ffrench, Director of Marketing and Communications

Sam Abboud, Environmental Advocacy Assistant

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