The SEA directive is intended to deepen the EU's existing environmental impact assessment (EIA) regime, which applies only to major projects. SEA, in contrast, concerns higher-level plans. After several aborted attempts, EU governments reached a first common position on the plan last December (ENDS Daily 14 December 1999).
That agreement specifically excluded plans financed by the current round of EU structural funds from strategic assessment requirements, but did not mention subsequent rounds. But the parliament has now voted to require that: "all future plans and programmes under these or new [funding programmes] shall be covered by...the [SEA] directive".
European Commission sources said the huge structural funds budget - which is second only to the common agricultural policy in cash terms - was a "politically delicate issue" and that the parliament's demands would "very likely" force conciliation talks with governments.
The Commission's own position is not clear-cut. Though it has recently threatened to withhold regional funds for member states failing to implement EU nature protection law, up to now it has been hesitant to support blanket strategic assessment requirements for a funding programme still several years away.
UK campaign group the Council for the Protection of Rural England called the parliament's move a "critical improvement" and welcomed its endorsement of the directive. A spokesperson said the group was "particularly pleased" that an attempt led by a group of German christian democrat MEPs to reject the whole text had failed.
Meanwhile, the parliament rejected an environment committee proposal to widen the directive's scope by requiring that assessments be made of some "conceptual" plans not directly giving rise to building projects (ENDS Daily 12 July). But it removed a clause allowing governments to exempt certain classes of plan from the requirements, and instead insisted that exemptions should be handled case by case.
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