EU Environment Council round-up

Ministers debate noise, harry Commission on GMOs, fail to pronounce on POPs

EU ministers assembled in Luxembourg yesterday for their third regular council meeting of the year. The gathering was the first of two to be held under the French presidency and followed an established pattern of being the more muted in tone. The meeting was dominated by a first reading political agreement on the draft EU ozone directive (ENDS Daily 10 October) and a discussion on measures to combat climate change (see separate article, today's issue). Other items on the agenda are summarised here.


A televised debate revealed general approval for uncontroversial European Commission proposals to harmonise EU noise measurement, monitoring and mapping techniques (ENDS Daily 27 July). "The whole question of noise is probably the most damaging, most serious, most intrusive form of environmental pollution that we have not yet dealt with in a manner our citizens would wish," UK environment minister Michael Meacher told his colleagues.

Agreement on the proposals is considered a prerequisite for any future moves to introduce EU limits on ambient noise levels - which would be a much more controversial step. During the debate, only Spain and Portugal strongly favoured the introduction of such limits. Environmentalists seized on the two countries' support today. "It's an encouraging sign that governments are last starting to take noise pollution seriously," said Beatrice Schell of transport NGO T&E.


The Commission is under pressure to produce a set of proposals beefing up EU traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms after the French presidency stressed that it wanted to see the plans before the end of autumn. The Commission promised the deadline at an informal ministerial meeting in July (ENDS Daily 17 July) but progress has since been slow, with work on labelling barely begun. The Commission admits the issue is difficult because it involves more than one department and has tried to back away from its deadline.


Related to the debate on GMOs, the Commission reported comments received by interested parties to its white paper outlining the possible future shape of an EU environmental liability regime (ENDS Daily 9 February). The Commission has now launched several studies investigating, for example, its consequences for the insurance industry. The results are due in April and a legislative proposal is expected by the end of next year.

Persistent Organic Pollutants:

Ministers heard an appeal from Danish minister Svend Auken for a strong EU stance at forthcoming negotiations for a UN convention to tackle persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Mr Auken asked them to back an explicit reference to the precautionary principle and the outright prohibition of a number of substances in the convention text. Denmark fears that EU support for the convention is waning; the French presidency rejected its request for the adoption of "conclusions" supporting its position.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111, and the full conclusions.

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