Outlook for EU green fiscal policy debated

Majority decision making on environmental taxes seen crucial for sixth action programme

The outcome of ongoing intergovernmental negotiations to amend the EU's treaty will be crucial in determining its ability to use fiscal policy as a tool to influence environmental quality, a conference on the sixth EU environmental action programme in Brussels heard today.

Expected to be concluded at the Nice summit of European heads of government in December, the intergovernmental conference (IGC) will determine to what extent current EU members should lose the right of veto in areas such as fiscal policy as the bloc prepares to welcome up to twelve new countries in its next wave of enlargement.

The sixth action programme is due to be proposed by the European Commission by the end of the year and its environment directorate wants to make the increased use of market-related instruments - including taxes - one of its major thrusts.

"It would be difficult to launch [fiscal measures] as a major pillar of...action" if the IGC doesn't support a shift from unanimous to qualified majority decision making on EU tax proposals, environment directorate official Nick Hanley told the conference today.

His comments followed a gloomy assessment from European Parliament environment committee chairman Caroline Jackson on the prospects for agreement on a Commission proposal to set EU minimum energy tax rates, one of whose effects should be to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The proposal is being held up by opposition from Spain and is intimately linked to the national veto discussions in the IGC. Ms Jackson predicted that member states would cling tightly to their vetoes when it came to tax policies, especially after recent protests over high fuel prices. "The energy tax won't be deliverable within the time-span of the sixth environmental action programme," she said.

EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström announced plans to draft a sixth environmental action programme just over a year ago, stressing human health, water, chemicals, climate change and EU enlargement as the key policy themes. (ENDS Daily 3 September 1999). In March, EU environment ministers called for the programme to focus on climate change, resource use and waste, biodiversity, soil protection and health risks from chemicals and genetically modified organisms (ENDS Daily 30 March). At today's conference, Mr Hanley said the programme would focus on four major themes: climate change, health, nature and biodiversity and resource use and waste.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; European Parliament environment committee, tel: +32 2 284 2111. The conference was organised by Campden Publishing, tel: +44 20 72 14 05 00 to publicise its annual report, the Sustainable Development Agenda.

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