EU Environment Council round-up

Wallström promises action on brominated flame retardants, plans directive on liability

EU environment ministers met in Brussels yesterday under the presidency of Portuguese minister José Socrates. No legislation was due to be finalised during the session, but the agenda covered some of the weightiest issues in current EU environmental policy making. ENDS Daily reported yesterday on the ministers' debate on the national emissions ceilings directive and on their agreement on elements for the sixth EU environmental action programme. Today we review other points on the agenda.

Brominated flame retardants:

EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström announced early controls on brominated flame retardants, a class of persistent organic chemicals implicated in some cancers. "We will definitely take action, we won't sit on our hands," she told journalists. "We know now there are definite risks, we will use the precautionary principle, we should look for substitutes," she added.

During the meeting, the Swedish delegation repeated a call made with Denmark at the last Environment Council (ENDS Daily 14 December 1999) for more attention to be given to BFRs. Ms Wallström said the European Commission had already "hurried up" a scientific assessment of BFRs and would make a response once a report from the UK in the context of the EU's existing chemicals review programme had been received next month.

Endocrine disrupters:

Ministers welcomed "very favourably" a Commission strategy to assess and deal with threats to health and environment from endocrine-disrupting chemicals (ENDS Daily 21 December 1999). The plan was published ahead of a general chemicals strategy due later this year, and focuses on a "priority list" of about 40 substances, details of which are expected to be released soon. In endorsing the Commission's proposed approach, ministers called on it to develop "quick and effective" risk management strategies for substances on the list that "may, on the basis of a preliminary scientific evaluation, have potential adverse effects".

Climate change:

In the first of three presentations on recent policy statements, Ms Wallström outlined the Commission's new strategy on climate change and white paper on carbon emissions trading (ENDS Daily 8 March). Over lunch, ministers held a general debate on implementing the Kyoto protocol ahead of meetings in New York and Bonn to finalise the EU's position at the sixth conference of parties to the protocol (COP6) in November. A dispute over whether nuclear energy should be excluded from the protocol's clean development mechanism (ENDS Daily 10 March) remained unresolved.

Liability white paper:

Speaking after the Council, Ms Wallström said she would forge ahead with plans to draft an EU directive setting a framework for compensation claims to be made against organisations and individuals causing environmental damage (ENDS Daily 9 February). A "big majority" of member states favoured an EU directive in preference to signing up to the Lugano convention on environmental liability, she said. Opinions varied on the Commission's proposal that claims for biodiversity damage should be limited to Natura 2000 sites, she admitted, but added that there was "no pressure to weaken it, rather the opposite."

Precautionary principle communication:

Differing interpretations of this key concept have raised tensions recently between the EU and the USA over issues such as hormone treated beef and genetically modified foods (ENDS Daily 24 March). The commissioner said she had received "broad support" from ministers for last month's Commission communication, which defines the principle and sets out guidelines for its use (ENDS Daily 2 February).

Biodiversity convention:

Ministers approved the EU's position for the fifth conference of parties to the UN biodiversity convention, to be held in Nairobi next month. They welcomed the agreement in January of a biosafety protocol to the convention (ENDS Daily 31 January). Preparatory talks for a meeting of the CITES convention on trade in endangered species were also held.

Other business:

Ministers called on the Commission to make "substantial progress in the not-too-distant future" on developing environmental indicators. A "large number" of delegations congratulated transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio for her "rapid reaction" to the Erika oil tanker disaster by proposing a raft of measures to prevent such accidents in the future. Ms de Palacio presented her communication on marine safety to ministers (ENDS Daily 22 March).

The meeting opened with a protest against the entry into government of Austria's far-right Freedom Party by the EU's three Green environment ministers, Dominique Voynet of France, Edo Ronchi of Italy and Magda Aelvoet of Belgium. Austrian environment minister, Wilhelm Molterer, is a Conservative.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111. See also the council meeting official report (French only).

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