Austrian environment minister sets out stall

Climate protection, transposing EU directives, are priorities says Molterer

Climate protection and national implementation of existing EU directives are main priorities for Austrian environmental policy, the incoming environment minister, Wilhelm Molterer, said yesterday. Mr Molterer is also responsible for agriculture, water protection and forestry issues. Environmental groups as well as opposition parties have already criticised his programme.

Speaking at a his press conference after taking office, Mr Molterer was at pains to explain that combining the agriculture and environment agendas was "an important strategic decision of the new federal government".

The conservative politician, who was previously agriculture minister, said he would implement a new licensing system for businesses by June in order to transpose EU directives on environmental impact assessment (EIA), on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) and the major hazards directive (Seveso II).

Mr Molterer said the other top priority was to work towards achieving Austria's greenhouse gas emissions reduction target under the Kyoto protocol, which will require 13% cut from 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The minister also promised to continue Austria's anti-nuclear policy, which has included harsh criticisms of nuclear safety in central and eastern European countries due to join the EU.

Though Mr Molterer defended the fusion of agricultural and environmental issues in one ministry, others have been unconvinced. Ulli Sima, environmental spokesperson of the opposition Social Democrats said: "The combination of agriculture and the environment is incompatible. Environmental burdens on water are caused mainly by agriculture." Greenpeace said Mr Molterer's record was not good, claiming that he had blocked labelling of genetically modified foods.

Follow Up:
Austrian environment ministry, tel: +43 1 515 220, and press release; Social Democrats, tel: +43 1 401 100; {Greenpeace Austria}, tel: +43 1 545 4580.

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