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Monday, 1 October 2001 - Strasbourg OJ edition

4. Accident at AZF, Toulouse, and EU environmental policy

  President. – The next item is the Commission statement on the accident at the AZF factory in Toulouse and the rewriting of the European Union’s environmental protection policy.

I shall now give the floor to Mrs Wallström.


  Wallström, Commission. – Madam President, the accident in Toulouse occurred shortly after 10 a.m. on 21 September at the establishment Grande Paroisse in Toulouse. This fertiliser plant is owned by Atofina the chemical branch of the Total/Fina/Elf group. Amongst other dangerous substances it held important quantities of liquefied ammonia and chlorine, combustibles, solid ammonium nitrate and fertilisers, as well as methanol.

The effects of what seems to have been a mass explosion of ammonium nitrate were felt far outside the establishment's boundaries. According to the latest reports, 29 people were killed, 30 people are still in hospital in a serious condition and in total around 2400 people were injured. The accident also affected two other chemical plants in the vicinity. It rendered a large number of houses uninhabitable and affected the electricity distribution system. Moreover, the psychological after-effects on the population that first believed it to be a terrorist attack are also important.

This accident is perhaps the worst of its kind in Europe since 1921, when an explosion at the BASF company in Germany claimed the lives of 561 citizens.

Last week a representative of the Total/Fina/Elf group met with the responsible services of my Directorate-General in order to provide detailed information on the accident. Furthermore, the French Ministry of the Environment has provided information to the Commission. However, the exact causes of the accident are still unknown and the three investigations under way by Atofina, the Ministry of the Environment and the Attorney-General might take a long time.

AZF was fully covered by the Seveso II directive, which aims at the prevention of major industrial accidents and the limitation of their consequences for man and the environment. Its classical field of application are chemical plants and storage facilities. The directive obliges the operator of these facilities to put in place a major accident prevention policy, a safety management system and internal emergency plans. He/she has to prepare a safety report and send it to the public control authorities. These authorities have the task of inspecting the site at regular intervals and also of ensuring that its external emergency plans are put in place and tested periodically. Furthermore, the public living in the vicinity of the plant must be informed of the risks arising from the facility and the behaviour in case of an accident.

The directive came into force in 1999 and replaced the original Seveso directive from 1982 that was adopted following major industrial accidents in the 1970s. This was the first piece of Community legislation in the field of industrial risk management. It is no secret that Member States were late with their transposition of the Seveso II directive into national law.

No Member State adopted transposition legislation in time or notified the Commission hereof in time. Therefore the Commission started infringement proceedings against all 15 Member States for non-communication or incomplete communication of transposition measures. In the meantime this resulted in the Commission taking five Member States to the European Court of Justice: Belgium, Austria, Germany, Ireland and Portugal. For France, the Commission decided on 18 July 2001 to apply to the Court for incomplete transposition. However, I want to make it very clear today that the reasons for the Court appeal being launched against France can in no way be related directly to the Toulouse accident in terms of possible infringement of obligations under the Seveso II directive.

At the moment, despite rumours in the press, the Commission has no indication that there was either a deficiency on behalf of the operator managing the plant and complying with Seveso II or on behalf of the French control authorities responsible for inspecting the site.

According to information received from the French Minister for the Environment, risk analysis, including possible accident scenarios, had been carried out by the site operator but these did not include a mass explosion of ammonia nitrate. The last updates were made in 2000 and 2001. A safety management system was in place and the site was inspected about twice a year. The last inspection took place in May 2001. Internal and external emergency plans were in place. A land use planning policy established by the prefect imposed restrictions on all new construction activities in the vicinity of the plant.

Let me now come to the follow-up. Just over a week after the accident it is still too early to draw any conclusions. The regulatory committee established under the Seveso II directive, chaired by the Commission and composed of representatives of all Member States is going to meet on 10-12 October to discuss, amongst other things, the accident and its follow-up.

What is the repercussion of the Toulouse accident on the foreseen amendment of the Seveso II directive? You might recall that after the Baia Mare accident, the cyanide spill in Romania in January 2000, I created a task force that presented its final report in December last year. In parallel, after the disastrous fireworks explosion in May 2000 in Enschede in the Netherlands, my services organised two European expert seminars on pyrotechnic and explosive substances. The expertise and the resulting recommendations went into a draft proposal for an amendment to the Seveso II directive, aiming at broadening the scope and covering establishments that were previously not covered.

The draft proposal has undergone a public consultation process involving all stakeholders and was foreseen for adoption by the Commission in September. We should move forward with this amendment. This does not mean we should not take due account of the Toulouse accident. There is indeed one very important aspect that made the consequences of the accidents in Toulouse and Enschede even worse, that is, the proximity of the establishments to inhabited areas.

The new Article 12 on land use planning in the Seveso II directive aims in the long term at the separation of hazardous industrial establishments and inhabited areas or other locations frequented by the public. Although the inclusion of such a provision in Community legislation for the very first time represents a major step forward, the Commission and Member States still have to gain experience with its implementation. Moreover, this provision applies to the planning for new industrial sites, for new housing zones, and does not retroactively apply to existing situations, such as Toulouse, where increasing density of population has led residential areas to continually spread closer to an industrial site that has existed since the 1920s.

In order to assist Member States with the implementation of this provision, a guidance document on land use planning was published in 1999 and plans for a European seminar on land use planning to be hosted by France were already under way before the accident in Toulouse. In the near future my services will increase cooperation with the Member States in order to develop an appropriate legislative and/or non-legislative follow-up to the accidents in the areas of land use planning, harmonisation of generic risk assessment methods and risk mapping.




  De Veyrac (PPE-DE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, on 21 September, Toulouse was struck by a terrible disaster which, as Mrs Wallström said, claimed many victims – 29 people died and more than 2 000 people were injured – and considerable damage was caused to housing, schools, hospitals and universities. If I may, I would like to pay tribute to the victims and to express our sympathy and support to the injured, to their families and to all those affected by this disaster.

What helps most in a disaster like this is other people expressing their solidarity. The people of Toulouse have been touched by the number and by the spontaneity of the messages that they have received from France and the European Union, from the Parliament and the Commission. As Deputy Mayor of Toulouse, I would like to give my sincere thanks to all those who have sent these messages to us.

This disaster also compels us to consider a number of things. The first is the action the European Union can take to help these towns or regions affected by the catastrophe. The European Union budget used to include a heading for emergency aid to deal with these disasters, but this was withdrawn. I am today requesting that this instrument, which helped to put affected regions back on their feet, be re-introduced.

Toulouse is a prime example of a European city with its aircraft and space industries and, in the last few days, I have heard many people asking, when they hear of aid being granted by various sources: ‘And what about Europe – what is Europe doing to help us?’ Since we constantly discuss bringing Europe closer to its people, one of the most obvious ways of doing this would be for Europe to help Europeans in their time of need.

Situations such as that which Toulouse has recently experienced require the use of human resources, such as the fire services, first-aid workers, doctors, hospital and voluntary staff. Without going so far as to propose the utopia of a European civil protection force, I think that every effort should be made at European Union level, as Parliament recently requested, to enhance the coordination of civil protection expenditure. We must improve how the system works. For example, in the disaster in Toulouse, I would have been pleased to see the fire services and first-aid workers from other Member States supporting the remarkable work carried out by the Toulouse fire services. These are distressing circumstances, admittedly, but this would have done much to help Europe’s cause.

We often talk of ‘zero risk’. The recent events, which have plunged the citizens of Toulouse and New York into mourning, show that this certainly cannot be achieved. What we can do, however, is to reduce the probability of risk by taking careful action. We must do this at a local level, at a national level, and we must ensure this is done at European level.

I therefore call on the European Commission to take into account the lessons of the disaster in Toulouse when revising the Seveso II directive.

Almost every day, many demonstrations take place in Toulouse, in which thousands of people take part, chanting ‘Never again, never again!’ I would like everyone in this House to respond to them with ‘Never again in Europe!’


  Berès (PSE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, before I begin talking about the substance of the matter, I would naturally like to express my solidarity with the victims and their families. I believe that the House has today shown its solidarity, which, in my view, is also essential. Secondly, my thoughts are also with those of my fellow Members who are more directly involved, due to their responsibilities in the region.

Nor should we forget to praise the efficiency of everyone who immediately rushed to the scene of the disaster to provide assistance, such as the fire services and hospital staff, and of everyone who played a part in organising the support network for the victims and their families.

We must also praise the extensive measures of solidarity announced by the Prime Minister during his visit last Friday to Toulouse, which will enable life to return to a normal footing – if that were at all possible – by re-housing those who have lost their homes and getting children back into school as quickly as possible.

There is also an inquiry underway into the causes of the explosion. We must have confidence in the French authorities to carry out this inquiry carefully, with a desire for transparency and with a determination to succeed.

In addition to this, what can we do at European level?

In my view, we must all shoulder our responsibilities, at our own level. You mentioned this, Commissioner, and I would like to thank you for your comments about France’s responsibility concerning its obligations under the Seveso directive. What you said is important.

You also mentioned the debate that is underway on how to best reconcile land use planning, environmental risk, industrial risk and employment. The work that you have carried out with the aim of revising the Seveso directive should take into account every aspect of this balance. Many other Members, in addition to myself, will take part in this debate on additional measures which could be envisaged, including at a European level, particularly with regard to monitoring.

There is, nonetheless, a point that I would like to come back to, which is the issue of emergency aid. Admittedly, we all know that this is a difficult debate, one that was opened during the re-negotiation of Agenda 2000. But can we just sit back and watch the disasters that have struck France – namely, the sinking of the Erika, the storms of December 1999 and now the explosion in Toulouse – without demonstrating some European solidarity? We must find a way to do this, if not through the use of a heading on emergency aid, perhaps we could see whether there is some leeway within the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) so that, in addition to this strict set of zones that we have put in place, there may be room for a small solidarity package, so that Europe can also manage in difficult circumstances.

Secondly, I hope that the Commissioner will do everything she can at a European level and beyond to remind everyone of their responsibilities, in order to allow land planning policies to take into account, in their fiscal dimension as well, the difficult balance that we must achieve, and also so that the leaders of industry shoulder their responsibilities when compensating victims and repairing the damage.


  Ries (ELDR).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Group of the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party, I would like to join previous speakers in expressing my group’s solidarity with the families, the victims’ relatives and the people of Toulouse as a whole. Given the latest legal information we have at our disposal, and whilst awaiting completion of the inquiry that is currently underway, which will determine the causes of the disaster, what lessons, Mr President, can we draw from this fatal explosion?

First of all – and this is distressing, truly distressing – history is repeating itself. It is 33 years since the Seveso disaster, not to mention the other disasters that have occurred, and two European directives seeking to provide the Member States with a harmonised policy in managing major industrial risks will not have been enough to avoid another human tragedy. This is a stark reality that illustrates the limits of a law, even where this is binding and transnational. We should avoid responding to this industrial catastrophe with a Seveso III directive. The Liberals consider it imperative, and the Commissioner reiterated this, that, first and foremost, all Member States strictly apply the provisions of the existing legislation, particularly the Seveso II directive, which dates back to December 1996. And we still have a long way to go before this can be done, with infringement proceedings launched against six Member States, one of which is France. You also stated, Mrs Wallström, that all Member States were behind in the transposition of the directive into national law. So, did the manufacturer, the owner of the site, update the safety report at any point in the last five years, as specifically laid down in one of the articles under the Seveso II directive? It is worthwhile asking this question, since at a seminar held in France in 1999, the European Union network for the implementation and enforcement of environmental law (Impel) discussed the causes of a massive ammonia leak at the 'Grande Paroisse' factory, which is in the Seveso II category, and the finger of blame was pointed at design faults and equipment reliability. We must conclude that the precautionary principle did not prevail in this case. Must we reiterate that this risk assessment provides an essential basis for any strategy to prevent and avert all types of disaster? And now I come to the key point of this debate, which is, as Mrs Berès has already said, the monitoring of land use planning in areas surrounding these sites. Employees of the factory are of course affected but everyone living nearby is also a victim of the massive chemical explosion. The AZF factory was nothing more and nothing less than a time bomb situated less than five kilometres from the centre of Toulouse, a city with a population of 400 000. This is not the only example of a city in Europe that has seen a population explosion. If you draw two lines on a map of Europe, one from London to Milan and the other from Copenhagen to Barcelona, and 200 kilometre corridors along each side of the lines of this X, you will have 65% of Europe’s population and 80% of Europe’s manufacturing sites, including the dangerous ones, within this restricted area. In France, there is a national debate on the issue of risks to the urban population. Three hundred and sixty million citizens of Europe expect, here and now, to see a genuine land planning policy resulting from the unprecedented disaster that struck Toulouse.


  Onesta (Verts/ALE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank all the speakers who have taken part in this debate, as I believe that, despite our political differences, we know that we must pull together in the face of tragedy. Mrs Wallström, the title of the statement that you made to us today obviously referred to the accident at the AZF factory, but it also referred to the rewriting of the European Union’s environmental protection policy because, in my view, this is what poses the challenge.

The accident that occurred at Seveso gave us the Seveso I directive. This was insufficient. The accident at Bopal was followed by the Seveso II directive. I do not wish to see us simply come up with a third Seveso directive, a point that my fellow Member, Mrs Ries, made very well. In my view, we must change the way we approach these problems as patching up after each successive tragedy can only achieve so much. Obviously, I agree that we need to further strengthen what already exists, but we must also know when to change tack. Since today we know that ‘zero risk’ is impossible – what has happened recently illustrates this, tragically – and so it is also impossible for people to live alongside a chemical time bomb. We must therefore move away from risk management towards risk removal.

The removal of risk will not be an easy thing to achieve, let us make no bones about this. We will not be able to do everything in one fell swoop. Several things will need to be implemented. First of all, we need resources. European resources, resources from other Member States, which will be crucial and which must obviously supplement the resources that the manufacturers themselves will have to provide, because these large international firms are making a profit, because the land that they own, due to their proximity to built-up areas, is worth a great deal on the property market, and also because if they relocate, they will undergo restructuring and will make substantial operational savings. We need resources, therefore, but we must also avoid causing social problems. Over the past few days, the people who worked at the AZF factory have been burying their colleagues. I do not wish to add unemployment to their list of problems – let us not add social crisis and social problems to the environmental and human tragedy.

We therefore must use all our resources to help these people to relocate if the site is sealed off, or help them with retraining if jobs are retained in Toulouse.

We must also be very careful with regard to relocation. The European Union has always been very sensitive to the question of solidarity and I believe that the large corporations are quite prepared to relocate, but they can quite easily contemplate relocating to the developing world, where there is no environmental protection and no social protection. In this respect as well, the European Union must make every effort to avoid this type of relocation. Let us avoid sending our time bombs and dangers to other parts of the world.

Lastly, now might be a good time, when discussing relocations, to consider the purpose of the products that are manufactured in the companies concerned. The factory that exploded produced fertilisers. Is there still a need today for us to flush more nitrates into the groundwater of Europe’s soil? It may also be the time to question whether some production methods are not perhaps obsolete.

I am calling upon you, Mrs Wallström, and via you I call on the Commission as a whole, because it is Europe’s turn to speak. Defining this general framework clearly falls within Europe’s remit. Due to the scale, frequency and almost unavoidable nature of these accidents, I believe that a pact of confidence has been breached between the people of Europe and the regulatory framework that we are supposed to implement. I think that we must restore this confidence as a matter of urgency. We are, I believe, now awaiting specific and firm proposals from the Commission. We should not be satisfied with purely cosmetic measures. We need political measures.


  Ainardi (GUE/NGL).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, like other Members from the region, I was in Toulouse at the time of the explosion. Since then, I have met with several employees, residents and friends who have been affected by this disaster. I wish to point out that when we talk about suffering, trauma and shock, we are talking about men and women whose lives have been deeply wounded and their anger is in proportion to this shock. I wish to pay tribute to the memory of the victims and also to the local authority workers, the emergency and medical teams, the Electricité de France employees and all the men and women who, with their skills and goodwill, gave their energies to serve the general interest. It is also at times like this that we rediscover the importance of public services and their staff as a tool for serving the general interest.

Many political leaders have spoken of the absurdity of locating this type of chemical plant near to large urban centres. It is worth making the point that wherever this type of industry is located, there are men and women working. In a far-off desert or in the centre of Brussels, if the factory blows up, scores of workers will lose their lives. The first question we should address is that of making these industries as safe as possible. Admittedly, the debate on the location of sites has been opened, but this aspect cannot be considered unless there are major improvements in inspection and safety conditions. The entire situation has changed. It is my view that the Seveso directives need to be reviewed. Let us use what we learn from this disaster to improve regulations on safety and on respecting the environment. We must come up with new, much more restrictive regulations on the way these plants are run and, above all, on the resources available to inspection bodies. By way of anecdote, a terrifying one, the inspection body responsible for the Midi-Pyrénées region has 17 inspectors to inspect over 2000 companies.

Amongst the first factors thrown up by the investigation, I know that the investigation is not over, but nevertheless, there are many indications that the company’s management took a rather irresponsible approach to risk management. We must draw the obvious conclusions from that. Following the disaster, we are discovering serious safety lapses in the chemical industry in other parts of the country. This review process must be undertaken in tandem with a mission whose work is open to the whole of Europe and which has the task of carrying out an assessment of European safety. Inspection bodies must publish their results. The investigation in Toulouse must be transparent and must involve employees and local residents.

I therefore call on Parliament to state its support for an exceptional risk assessment procedure in Europe and to review the directives. Toulouse is today a city in shock, in terms of the physical environment, psychologically and in terms of the direct and indirect consequences for employment and for businesses located near the site. Toulouse needs financial and logistical aid. The Union must demonstrate its capacity for solidarity at times of crisis. Will this require exceptional emergency funds? I am not sure, but the European Commission could, for example, contact the city, the département and the region to sound out their logistical needs. In this situation, the mobilisation of European engineers and support teams could, in symbolic terms as well as being effective, demonstrate the commitment of the European Union.

‘Never again!’ ‘Never again!’ is what tens of thousands of Toulouse’s citizens are shouting and calling for. ‘Never again!’ was what the communities affected by the oil slick from the Erika shipwreck, demanded. Once again, the approach of profit, job cuts and investment has led to a lapse in safety and has caused an ecological and human disaster. In order to confront this, we need further public regulation, more rules on inspection and more resources. We know that people are initially angry with the company’s bosses, but they will turn on us next and this fury will be unleashed on us, the political leaders. And they would be right to do so. Our task is to produce rules that benefit the community, not to bow down to the dominance of private interests.


  Thomas-Mauro (NI).(FR) Mr President, as our fellow Member, Mrs De Veyrac, deputy Mayor of Toulouse, sadly stated, on 21 September 2001, the ammonium nitrate warehouse in the AZF chemical factory in Toulouse exploded, causing the death of 29 people and injuring 2 500. A disaster of this scale requires the competent authorities to provide information on the exact causes of the explosion, out of respect for the victims, their families, and for all communities living near a site with a Seveso classification.

Was this an accident, a malicious act or a terrorist attack? Before accusing the chemical industry of failing to comply with the precautionary principle, let us consider the results found by the chemists and specialists in ammonium nitrate, which confirm that there is no basis for the theory of a gradual decomposition of the product that caused the explosion. Ammonium nitrate is a stable product, and the investigators make the point that this type of product cannot explode unless it comes into contact with intense heat, as proven by the very serious precedents in Silesia in 1921, in Texas in 1947, in Brest, in France, in 1947. Furthermore, the staff representatives at the AZF plant vigorously repudiate the description of a sink-factory.

Whatever the cause, it would be wise to produce a list of the most dangerous sites and to relocate them away from housing. On the other hand, it is, of course, inconceivable to prohibit by law the establishment of high-risk chemical industrial plants. These would be forced to locate abroad with foreseeable consequences for the economy and business confidence. We would certainly have to amend European legislation which, although dating from 1982 and 1996, is not retroactive. We would have to increase the vigilance of inspection services and authorities over industrial sites with a Seveso classification, or even make access to dangerous sites more secure. The approach to adopt will depend on the outcome of the investigation, which we hope will be completed with complete frankness.




  Gutiérrez-Cortines (PPE-DE).(ES) Mr President, I would like to join other Members in expressing my condolences to the families involved in the tragedy that has taken place. I also share some of the opinions of previous speakers.

I would like to insist on one point, however: I believe that the system based on prohibition, the Seveso system, is not sufficient. The tragedies taking place recently are demonstrating that we are experiencing phenomena which can only be reduced, if not eliminated, by means of integrated treatment. The issue today is town and country planning. Europe has an old and antiquated system in which all towns wanted to have their industries and it seemed that quality of life was linked to everything being together. A town with many shops, many industries and all within an accessible area.

Nevertheless, the scale, the risk and the dimension of our companies today demonstrate the serious problems that this entails. We cannot continue to allow town and country planning to be completely subsidiary. We must be capable of selecting basic elements in order to create a European area of security, in the way that is being done in other areas, such as food safety. We must recognise the need for an area of security in the field of town and country planning. And the countries must accept it. And in the same way that any town and country planning accepts protected natural areas, measures of this type will also have to be accepted.

In this respect, I regret the fact that, in the version of the environmental action programme which we have received from the Council – the sixth – with regard to which we presented proposals on the urban environment and inhabited areas, certain aspects have been removed which our group considers important.

We believe that it is a matter of urgency to establish environmental strategies, to implement risk studies, also in industrial areas, to create specific industrial areas far from towns, to penalise those builders or local authorities who allow anything for the sake of construction, and of course establish risk indicators which are incorporated into a European policy.


  Savary (PSE).(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I should like us, through our fellow Members from Toulouse who are with us today, starting with the President of the sitting, to express our condolences and our solidarity with all the victims of the tragedy in Toulouse. I, like other speakers, would also like to pay special tribute to the marvellous chain of emergency aid workers, both professional and voluntary, that was put together in Toulouse and, in particular, to the enormous dignity shown by the people of Toulouse in these extremely difficult circumstances.

What happened there is unimaginable. The death toll is indeed terrible, but is much lower than it might have been, given the unbelievable force of the explosion and the huge damage caused by this explosion in a heavily populated area. I agree with Mr Onesta when he says that, since there is no such thing as zero risk, especially in industry, we must now take stock and change our approach. In other words, we must apply the precautionary principle in land use planning. This means, whenever possible – and it will, unfortunately, only be possible in very limited cases – relocating businesses that are at risk, whilst protecting jobs. This is a concern that other speakers have also expressed. It would be particularly unfair for workers in industry to face an added risk – a social risk, that of losing their job – in addition to risks at work. The problem is also, and, perhaps, mainly, one of controlling urban development because, and we must be honest about this, in many cases, residential areas have merged with industrial areas. Near to the site in Toulouse, there was a major shopping centre. In my municipality, which has a factory just like the one in Toulouse, building permits are still being issued for communal housing, less than 800 metres from the site. Mainly, Commissioner, I would say that the draft amendment to the Seveso II directive must take account of these problems of urban growth, not least by increasing the responsibilities of businesses but also of the elected authorities that issue building permits.

Lastly, I should like to echo the feeling of helplessness that I experience as a Member of the European Parliament every time that we have the misfortune to encounter this type of event. The European Union does not do all it can when faced with disasters of this scale. Every time we give the commitment to move closer to the citizens of Europe, we must remember that we are not there when they go through distressing or intensely emotional times. I asked Commissioner Barnier this question after the storms in 1999, and it has come back to haunt us. I know that the credit line has been discontinued, but since this is the case, let us at least imagine the Utopia, as Mrs de Veyrac said, of a Eurocorps for civil defence, which is happening for the army. In other words, a rapid action force could also quite easily exist in the field of civil defence.


  Rod (Verts/ALE).(FR) For years we have been warning about risks of accident. For years we have been afraid that a disaster would happen and for years we have fought against the establishment of these plants in the Toulouse area. And now, when the explosion occurs, we have the sudden shock that stunned us at a distance of twenty kilometres, the contradictory information, the toxic cloud, a prefect who is asking to have his house proofed for leaks, all the windows shattered, the reflex to go and pick one’s children up from school, the anguish of seeing cars upside down, windscreens shattered, bloodied drivers wearing masks, the joy of finding one’s daughters, terrified and sheltering in the only classrooms whose windows remain in tact, relieved to see us. Going home, unable to telephone, no means of communication and finally hearing about friends who are in shock, injured or in hospital.

Then, after the anguish, the fear and after the suffering comes the time for anger. More than 5 000 of us gathered on the streets of Toulouse on Tuesday and more than 30 000 on Saturday, all shouting ‘Never again’.

The disaster in Toulouse is hugely revealing. First of all, it shows the limitations of local democracy and, in particular, of land use planning policies. Town councils have not used their land use plans to keep residential or commercial areas away from danger. There is no safety programme in place. There has been no consultation with local associations or with residents, despite the dangers. Locally elected representatives are equally responsible for what has happened.

The disaster also lays bare the policy of industrialists who, for the sake of profit, make not only their employees run risks, but also the surrounding community.

Lastly, the disaster has shown up the loopholes in the Seveso directive and in the policies implemented by the European Union. This disaster has shown the limitations of risk management policy. An overhaul of European legislation is essential. We can no longer put up with the existence of such huge risks. We must have a risk prevention policy. The legal liability of industry in the event of an accident must be better defined and increased. Member States must transpose European Union directives, and also comply with existing directives on environmental protection. The liability of policymakers must also be confirmed. Inspections must be stepped up and the responsibility of inspectors, who must be trained to European standards, must also be laid down. Chemical as well as nuclear bombs are located near to most European cities and yet no assessment of the risks has been made.

I do not want to play the role of Cassandra, but I would not wish anyone to experience what we in Toulouse went through on 21 September.


  Laguiller (GUE/NGL).(FR) My thoughts go to the victims of the explosion, to the men and women who died working at the AZF factory in Toulouse and who join the ranks of all those who die every day in a work-related accident because their companies have given priority to profit over safety. My thoughts also go to the men and women who died in the street or at home because the government and the town hall did not want to impose the necessary measures to ensure that the factory was not a bomb waiting to go off, a danger to everyone working there and to everyone who lived nearby.

Whatever the initial cause of the explosion, it is unacceptable that it should have turned into such a disaster, all because precautions were not taken. To bring down costs, expenditure on maintenance and storage was reduced, jobs were cut and with complete disregard for safety, work was given to sub-contractors who employed under-trained temporary staff.

The TotalFinaElf Corporation, which already bears guilt for the Erika shipwreck, is fully responsible. Putting the requirements of profit before those of safety is a crime. It is murder and the authorities that have allowed this to happen share the guilt for this event. TotalFinaElf, which last year made the greatest profit ever seen by a French company, has the cynicism to toss FRF 20 million to the victims to cover damages that are estimated at FRF 8 billion at the very least. Not to mention the pain of the victims’ families, which cannot be compensated for. The material damage must be paid for in full by the Elf Corporation and above all, this must never happen again, in Toulouse or anywhere else in France, or Europe. This will require very strict inspection measures for these types of companies, with the participation of the workers and under their supervision.


  Isler Béguin (Verts/ALE).(FR) Mr President, the Erika, storms, Toulouse, I hope that we will not have to add Carling to the list, a chemical plant that is 50 km from here as the crow flies and near to my home in Lorraine. How many more deadly signs do we need, Commissioner, before we agree to discuss our society’s future? Our society is adrift, like a wayward ship set to a faulty automatic pilot. Are we still going to accept as inevitable, in the name of employment and the all-powerful economy that communities should continue to live at risk, as they do in Toulouse and elsewhere? Were these communities informed of the risks that they faced? It would appear not. On the other hand, the communities that are aware of the risks, with ecologists at the top of the list, have been calling for drastic measures for years, such as improving factory safety and of course, the closure of the most dangerous ones.

Unfortunately, in Toulouse, the worst imaginable scenario occurred. Of course, no chemical factory, no nuclear power plant, particularly following 11 September and the appalling terrorist attack on the United States will be out of bounds, the appalling now having become possible. This must by no means prevent our countries, with the European Union leading the way, from being able to adopt the measures necessary to guarantee the citizens the highest level of safety in their workplace and in their everyday lives. The Seveso I directive represented a huge step forwards. Seveso II is an improvement on this but has yet to prove itself, since it has not yet been fully implemented. The investigation will tell us whether, in Toulouse, its provisions were being implemented, but this looks unlikely. Did those responsible not consider such a disaster to be highly improbable? What Europe needs today is more than just a Seveso III.

First of all, however, I hope that we do not give in to populism by giving the impression that with one wave of a wand, we could transfer these high-risk factories to another place, a more distant and safer place. No high-risk factories should be relocated to developing countries, in the same way that it would be a mistake to consider transplanting these factories into the countryside.

Secondly, specific industrial sites must be defined, while – let us remember, Commissioner – large amounts of money and European funds have been provided to regenerate industrial wasteland and convert some of it into theme parks. It would have been more appropriate to use these places to build factories with stricter regulations.

Thirdly, it is absolutely crucial that the Commission present, as rapidly as possible, its draft directive on environmental responsibility, which is the only solution that will force negligent or even unwilling factory owners to comply with restrictive regulations.

Lastly, we need to ask: what kind of society do we want to build? If we carry on as we are, we will be authorising production of chemical molecules whose impact on health or potential risks when transported or manufactured we do not know.

This is our social model, which must be completely changed in order to guarantee future generations a life free from terrible accidents and danger.


  Krivine (GUE/NGL).(FR) Mr President, the Total/Fina/Elf group is already guilty of committing a crime against the environment through the shipwreck of the oil tanker Erika and has acted criminally, once again, with the explosion of the AZF factory in Toulouse: 29 people are dead, more than 2 500 injured and a whole community ravaged. Like my fellow speakers, I fully share the pain of all men and women in Toulouse and most particularly, the pain of the victims’ families. It is our duty, however, to ensure that everything is done to clarify responsibilities. First of all, the responsibilities of TotalFinaElf, who allowed the stored fertiliser to turn into a chemical bomb by cutting costs on production, inspections and safety. TotalFinaElf must pay. It must compensate the victims and guarantee the salaries of its employees given that it has the cheek to announce aid for the community that totals one year’s salary for just one employee: its managing director. Next, there is the responsibility of the public authorities, the local council which, for the sake of business taxes, allowed a chemical plant to exist in a working class residential area. Also the government itself, which waited until 1999 to implement the Seveso II directive, which was voted for in 1996, and was a clearly inadequate directive. Legislation must be strengthened and its implementation must be verified by independent inspectors from within the public service.

The safety of people and the environment is too serious a matter to be left to shareholders and speculators. It is for communities, employees, unions and workers’ associations to determine, through a public and democratic debate, which types of production are socially useful or are considered to be too dangerous. This kind of choice cannot be left to the discretion of people who have proved to be unable to guarantee people’s safety. It is the responsibility of a public system of management, under the control of the community at large and the employees. Let us not allow the law of profit to pollute and murder again. Indeed, Never again!


  Wallström, Commission. – Mr President, firstly I have to remind you that we do not yet know the exact causes and the series of events. It is estimated that it may be a year before we know all the details relating to the causes of this accident. It is important to remember that first of all we have to look at exactly what happened and what caused this terrible accident in Toulouse. Secondly, I would like to talk about responsibility, which, first and foremost, lies with the operators of hazardous facilities. Legislation cannot solve all of these problems. Responsibility here has to be clarified – and it lies with the operators of this plant.

One of the basic problems is the so-called urban sprawl – the problem of land use planning. This plant was established in the 1920s. As you know, the Seveso II directive concerns new facilities, as well as the rules on informing the public, etc. You also know that this is an extremely sensitive issue with the Member States, and until now responsibility for land use planning has rested at national, regional and local level. This is, then, a very sensitive issue and we are not yet empowered to take decisions on all relevant aspects.

So what can and must we do in a situation like this? We have to ensure that our legislation is updated and try to make provision for and anticipate the improvements required to our legislation in order to prevent these accidents from happening again, although we are aware that we will never be able to prevent all accidents. Unfortunately, we will probably be faced with accidents again, but everything we can do we must do. That is why, once we have established the causes of this accident, we will also enter into an open and transparent process of consultation and discussion with Member States and with all involved stakeholders in order to see what we can do to improve our existing directives and make them more effective in trying to prevent this type of accident. We should also move ahead with what is already on the table – the amended Seveso II directive – because of previous accidents. We should not delay in moving forward with the amended directive, but we should definitely be involved in following up this accident to ensure that we have done everything to our existing legislation to prevent it from reocurring in the future. Mr Savary's idea to employ the precautionary principle in land use planning is an excellent starting point, and we will definitely follow up that particular proposal.

I should also like to inform you of what happens when an accident like this occurs in one of the Member States. As you know, we have a Civil Protection Unit that is immediately activated to offer the Member State in question the help and assistance of the network of different experts in all Member States. France did not ask for any such assistance from our Civil Protection Unit. We have tried to bolster our civil protection activities in order to have, for example, joint training and a much more effective network of experts of every kind. For example, I was in Brittany after the Erika oil spill, when France needed help with bird cleaning. Cooperation in such a specific area in Europe to establish such a unit that can be activated immediately is possible. In an accident like this, France was offered all possible expertise from other Member States.

If we use a strengthened Civil Protection Unit in the best possible way, it can play the so-called 'green-helmet' role as a force that can be put in place immediately to help and act when accidents like this happen.

So we will definitely follow this up in a careful and coordinated way, in cooperation with the Member States, in order to see what more is needed as regards prevention. As you have all said, our thoughts are with the victims, rescue workers, relatives and people in the Toulouse area. We will continue to offer our help and assistance.


  President. – Thank you very much, Commissioner.

The debate is closed.

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