Portugal seeks majority voting for EU ecotaxes

Intergovernmental conference progress report suggests abolishing veto over environmental taxes

EU governments should use majority voting rather than having to reach unanimous decisions on harmonised tax measures specifically aimed at improving the environment, according to proposals to revise the EU treaty published yesterday by Portugal, the current president of the Council of Ministers.

The plan is contained in a progress report on the current intergovernmental conference (IGC) aimed at revising the EU treaty to prepare for the bloc's potential doubling in membership over the next decade. An extension of majority voting is a main thrust of the reforms, which are designed to enable decision making even with more member countries. The key issues being discussed are exactly which treaty titles should lose their unanimous voting status, under which a single government can block all progress.

All EU-wide tax measures currently require unanimous agreement among member states, and the Portuguese suggest this should not change in general. However, the presidency proposes three particular types of tax measure that should shift to majority voting, including any with environmental protection as their "sole objective". It remains unclear how many potential EU tax measures might have easier passage into law as a result.

One proposal it would not assist is the Commission's draft energy products tax proposal, widely hailed as a key anti-global warming policy but currently going nowhere due to a wielding of veto power by Spain. This would be excluded from the rule change because the proposal is not solely aimed at environmental protection. In addition, the presidency suggests a caveat that unanimous decision making should continue for proposals that would "significantly affect" countries' energy policy.

In addition, the presidency rejects a broader European Parliament demand for all environmental laws to be agreed by majority votes. Instead it is suggesting retention of the national veto for laws on town and country planning and all land use policies except waste management. Member states should also have a veto when policies affect the quantitative, though not the qualitative, aspects of water resource management, it says.

In its own report on the IGC, the European Parliament criticised Portugal's "restrictive standpoint" on the vetoes, which it said was "surprising when set against the open-minded approach displayed by most of the member states."

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6423; see also the IGC website and the interim IGC report; European Parliament IGC website and report.

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