EU Council agrees green groups funding

Environmental NGOs disappointed by rejection of proposal for higher official backing

Environmental groups are to receive Ecu10.6m of European Union funding over the next four years, following Tuesday's meeting of EU environment ministers in Brussels, which nodded through the decision without debate.

The decision overrules the European Parliament, which earlier this year described the sum as "inadequate" (ENDS Daily 18 September). The Parliament also called for the EU to provide up to 60% of individual NGO's funds, attracting support from the European Commission, but this proposal was also rejected by the Council, which set a ceiling of 50%.

John Hontelez, head of the Brussels-based European Environmental Bureau (EEB), told ENDS Daily that the group was "particularly disappointed with some countries who we thought would support us". For the Council to override the combined forces of the Commission and Parliament, it must do so by unanimity. It appears that in Council working groups - where the decision was effectively taken - no EU country was prepared to stand up for the Parliament/Commission line.

In a related development, MEPs today voted through an Ecu300,000 budget line to set up a technical bureau for environmental NGOs working at EU level. Green groups have been campaigning for several years to persuade EU institutions to fund such an office in order to counter-balance industry representation on standardisation committees and Commission working groups. The EEB argues that environmental groups are called upon to participate in numerous technical meetings a year, imposing a "massive burden" on the groups' resources.

The Council and Parliament, who are jointly responsible for the EU's budget, agreed to fund a study into the feasibility of setting up a technical bureau in the 1997 budget. This has just been completed by a team of consultants and is "favourable" to the idea of a technical bureau according to Mr Hontelez. Pending a green-light from the European Commission, the EEB expects the office to be up and running next year. "The Commission doesn't have an excuse to postpone the decision any longer," said Mr Hontelez.

Follow Up:
Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111; European Environmental Bureau, tel: +32 2 289 1090.

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