Portugal to push through major EU water law

Incoming EU presidency takes on "tough challenge" of finalising framework directive

Portugal will try to finalise negotiations on the draft water framework directive during its six months as EU presidency, which began on 1 January, the country has indicated. EU officials predict Portugal will "have its work cut out" to achieve agreement. In the past it has opposed calls for stronger measures under the law. There are also key differences between the Council of Ministers, whose business the EU presidency coordinates, and the European Parliament.

At first reading, EU ministers rejected European Parliament demands to tighten the law by limiting temporary derogations, introducing mandatory full-cost water pricing and including a firmer commitment to phase out hazardous substances. MEPs are likely to renew these calls at second reading (ENDS Daily 9 December 1999).

Portugal has particular difficulties with water pricing, having a dry climate and a large and irrigation-intensive agricultural sector. In its role as EU presidency, it will have to bring the Council's position closer to the Parliament's if the two sides are to avoid head-to-head negotations under the conciliation procedure - the inevitable fate of the proposal according to some EU diplomats.

A second priority for the presidency, Portugal says, is to stimulate debate on the urban environment, on which the European Commission recently published new proposals for action (ENDS Daily 9 December 1999). A meeting of EU environment ministers in Oporto in April will focus on the issue.

According to Commission officials, it is not clear whether the presidency will start ministerial discussions on new proposals due out soon on the use of the precautionary principle, civil liability for environmental damage and reducing environmental impacts of batteries and electronic equipment.

However, Portugal has indicated it will try to find agreement on the proposed large combustion plants directive, disagreement over which marred the Finnish presidency (ENDS Daily 14 December 1999), as well as related plans to introduce binding emission ceilings for four key pollutants (ENDS Daily 30 November 1999).

Though its national commitment on emissions ceilings is lower than the Commission's proposal by a wider margin than for any other EU country, Portugal has recently indicated that it will reconsider its position. An EU source told ENDS Daily that the incoming presidency's approach would "not necessarily be consistent with narrow national self-interest" and could "create a positive dynamic" by persuading other countries to move towards the Commission's proposals.

Other priorities for the presidency, Portugal says, will be to "stimulate the implementation" of the EU's Kyoto protocol obligations, do much of the groundwork for the crucial sixth meeting of parties to the UN climate change convention early next year, and maintain pressure on individual economic sectors to integrate environmental thinking into their policy-making.

Follow Up:
Portuguese presidency, tel: +351 21 360 5300; Portuguese environment ministry, tel: +351 21 323 2500. See also the full text of the presidency programme.

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