Bright future seen for green taxes in the EU

Experts, officials, share experiences on ecological tax reform in wake of fuel tax backlash

Experts and governments from around Europe have given a vote of confidence for further development of ecological tax reforms during a conference organised by the French EU presidency in Paris last week. There was no evidence of dimmed enthusiasm following the recent wave of protests against high road fuel prices, participants told ENDS Daily.

Closing the conference, French environment minister Dominique Voynet stressed that fiscal instruments had already been shown to work. Fuel taxes, in particular, had played an important role in structuring Europe's transport system, she said. "The fact that our cars consume two times less than American cars or that a French person consumes five times less energy in travelling than an inhabitant of Houston is not due to chance or geography," she said.

Green taxes needed to be introduced in concert with other instruments, Ms Voynet maintained, and should not be seen as short-term measures. "People's behaviour is much more adaptable in the long-term than the short-term... and it is durable changes in behaviour, investment, siting and modes of production and consumption that will determine the future of our planet."

A German environment ministry official suggested that energy taxes introduced since 1999 under the country's ecological tax reform had already shown results. Petrol sales declined by 4.4% in the first half of 2000, Kai Schlegelmilch told the conference, while numbers of passengers on public transport had increased and the national car pooling association had reported a 25% increase in demand since the beginning of the year.

Other speakers made presentations on the state of green fiscal reforms in France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and the UK. An Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) official reported a general increase in the use of environmental taxes, especially in European countries. Jean-Philippe Barde also announced plans for a major new OECD analysis of environmental tax policies, to be published in the new year.

Director-general of the European Commission's environment directorate Jim Currie echoed several of Dominique Voynet's comments, including a call for agreement to be reached on the Commission's proposal for a directive setting minimum excise duty rates on energy products. "I know that the French presidency has taken this dossier to heart and hope that it can help us overcome the last obstacles" to a deal, he said.

Follow Up:
French EU presidency; French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21.

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