Top themes this month

The main legislative proposal in November is expected to be a Franco-British plan for EU-wide reduced value-added tax (VAT) rates for energy-efficient goods. The European parliament will vote on a proposed framework directive on soil protection while transport ministers will adopt positions on two more proposals in the Erika package on the prevention of shipping accidents and pollution incidents.
The European commission will also launch a green paper setting out ideas for improving the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) and approve a major extension of the Natura 2000 network of protected sites.
On 17 November the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish a synthesis report on the core findings of three major global assessments carried out earlier this year. The group makes recommendations in areas including adaptation and mitigation policies.
France and the UK are expected to propose an EU-wide reduction in VAT rates for energy-efficient goods at a meeting of EU finance ministers on 13 November. French president Nicolas Sarkozy and British prime minister Gordon Brown announced the proposal in July. They said taxes should be lowered on products ranging from cars to white goods.
The idea was also a central environment policy proposal in Mr Sarkozy’s presidential campaign and was reiterated in October when he outlined France’s green policy for coming years. Mr Sarkozy argues that green products sold in France should be taxed at 5.5 per cent VAT rate instead of the standard 19.6 per cent.
The commission has long supported the idea, notably in its efforts to introduce an EU integrated product policy. But member states, especially the UK, have traditionally treated the proposal with scepticism.
Taxation commissioner László Kovács floated the idea again in a communication published in July.
The European parliament is expected to vote a proposed soil protection framework directive that would oblige member states to identify areas at risk of soil degradation and draw up action programmes.
In October the parliament’s environment committee rejected several amendments from centre-right rapporteur Cristina Gutiérrez-Cortines that would have watered down the proposal. A draft text, published in July by the council of ministers, suggests EU governments also want to weaken key elements of the proposal, including a requirement for member states to identify risk areas. The Portuguese presidency hopes governments will reach a deal on the plan in December.
On 30 November transport ministers are expected to adopt first-reading positions on two of seven proposals in a package known as Erika III, intended to help prevent shipping accidents and pollution incidents. The two proposals concern standards for ship inspections and civil liability accidents involving passenger ships. Three other proposals were adopted in June.
The commission will issue a green paper setting out ideas for improving the CAP in a review due next year. Topics discussed will include the long-term future of rules requiring farmers to leave a percentage of their land fallow for environmental purposes. In September EU farm ministers agreed to drop the mandatory set-aside rate from ten to zero per cent for sowings this autumn and next spring in response to record increases in world cereal prices.
A high-level conference in November will see EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas discuss the steps Europe can take to improve how it measures progress. Entitled “Beyond GDP”, the conference aims to discuss ways to better integrate indicators such as ecological footprint into decision-making.
The commission will also approve an extension of the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected sites in the first half of November. More than 4,000 sites in new member states will be added which, ENDS understands, will complete the network established under the 1992 habitat directive. New sites cover three of seven biogeographic regions foreseen in the directive, including the Pannonian region covering Hungary and parts of Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

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