Portuguese claim advance on emission ceilings

"Greater flexibility" on combustion plants helps EU states move closer to Commission proposal

Portuguese environment minister Jose Socrates today claimed a major shift in attitude among EU countries towards caps on major air pollutants proposed by the European Commission last year. Speaking after ministers had discussed the draft national emission ceilings (NECs) directive in Brussels today, Mr Socrates said most were now willing to contemplate emissions cuts "very close to" levels demanded by the Commission.

Environment commissioner Margot Wallström has repeatedly slammed EU member states for refusing to agree to cuts in emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile hydrocarbons and ammonia proposed by the Commission. These are on average 12% more stringent than those negotiated under a UN protocol last year (ENDS Daily 30 November 1999).

Though the European Parliament has backed the Commission's proposals (ENDS Daily 15 March), progress on the NECs dossier was hindered by ministers' failure at their last meeting to agree a related directive controlling pollution from large combustion plants (LCPs)

Mr Socrates said that a "major part" of the EU's members had now given a "clear statement of increased commitment" to meeting the Commission's proposed caps on the four pollutants. The presidency would present a "final compromise" for agreement in June, he said. Commissioner Wallström said she was "happy" with ministers' new commitments, though her spokesperson later warned they were "not concrete enough yet."

Sources in the meeting suggested the more optimistic approach was prompted by new "flexibility" in the polarised positions of the German and UK delegations on LCPs. When it held the EU presidency in the second half of last year, Finland attacked Germany over its refusal to compromise over the means of reducing emissions from pre-1988 combustion plants (ENDS Daily 14 December 1999). The German delegation retorted by blaming the failure instead on the UK (ENDS Daily 15 December 1999).

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111. The conclusions of the ministerial meeting will be published tomorrow here.

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