Sweden to give product policy major push

Government hopes to make product policy a cornerstone of EU, national, sustainable development

Sweden is to make development of a Europe-wide integrated product policy (IPP) one of the main environmental priorities for its EU presidency which begins in a year's time, a senior environment ministry official has told ENDS Daily.

Draft legislation to be presented to the national parliament in May will contain details of how to support appropriate action at EU level along with a detailed domestic strategy for making IPP a cornerstone of sustainable development in Sweden.

"A coherent IPP could have a very positive effect on EU trade and the environment, and work to the benefit of our companies," the official added, underscoring a likely growth in importance at EU level of policies aimed at reducing products' environmental impacts over their entire lifetime.

Some frustration has been expressed at the slow pace of action since EU environment ministers agreed on a stronger focus for IPP under the German presidency last spring (ENDS Daily 10 May 1999). "The idea was very warmly backed not just by the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and the UK, where product policies are probably most advanced, but by southern countries as well," ENDS Daily was told. However, the European Commission failed to present a green paper on schedule last autumn, and it is not now expected before March.

Combined Nordic action could help to renew impetus in the area, and the findings of a regional working group are due to be presented in Stockholm next month. The product-oriented environmental strategy group, known as POMS, chaired by an official from the Swedish environmental protection agency, has spent the past year formulating a common approach,.

Sweden has used many of the tools that could form part of an IPP with "great success" in recent years, particularly producer responsibility and environmental management systems, but feels this still falls well short of a coherent policy. Between now and May, officials want to assess synergies between existing tools, place them in a common framework and plug any gaps, including looking at trade, consumer and industrial aspects, and addressing research needs.

The aim is to devise a largely voluntary approach, although officials say some legal sanctions may be considered. Attempts are being made to involve industry groups, partly in a bid to defuse potential opposition. The wider application of IPP has already come under heavy fire from the association of American-parented firms operating in the EU (ENDS Daily 17 December 1999), but Sweden believes better communication at an early stage could help to avoid similar controversy in future.

Follow Up:
Swedish environment ministry, tel: +46 8 405 1000; Swedish EPA, tel: +46 8 698 1000.

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