Trittin wins EU regional funding compromise

Commission agrees to assess structural fund applications state-by-state rather than nationally

The European Commission has defused a potentially damaging row with Germany over EU regional aid by agreeing to consider structural fund applications state-by-state rather than on a national basis. The Commission has previously warned that member states which have not designated sufficient sites to become part of the future Natura 2000 conservation network could find their structural fund bids blocked (ENDS Daily 20 January). The issue has raised political tensions in Germany, where some states are far behind others in drawing up lists of sites.

Though Germany's Green party has welcomed the understanding reached between environment minister Jürgen Trittin and EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström as a "great victory" for Mr Trittin, the Commission stressed today that its offer was conditional.

The German government must guarantee that the full lists provided by some states will still be scientifically valid when the national list is completed, an aide to Ms Wallström told ENDS Daily. Second, those sites already designated must enjoy immediate full protection under the EU's habitats and birds directives, whereas sites in other countries will not have to comply with all directives' provisions until the Natura network is formally approved.

A "major problem" would be created if Germany failed to stick to these commitments, the source said. The crunch will come in May, when funding applications will be assessed for compliance. In previous years the Commission has withdrawn funding and even demanded reimbursement of funds for failure to respect nature protection laws in aid programmes.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; German environment ministry, tel: +49 30 285 500.

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