EU precaution paper wins MEPs' support

Environment committee proposes few changes to Commission communication

The European Parliament's environment committee this week passed a report on implementation of the precautionary principle, making few substantive changes to the rapporteur's draft. Proposals from some MEPs to either significantly strengthen rules for using the principle or gutting it of most of its force were defeated.

The parliament is drafting a report in response to European Commission proposals in February for a framework on when and how the precautionary principle should be invoked (ENDS Daily 2 February). In her initial response in September, rapporteur Béatrice Patrie welcomed the proposal and recommended only limited changes (ENDS Daily 13 September).

Over 100 amendments to her report were tabled in the committee, but fewer than 20 were passed. In one of the most significant of these, the committee called for increased research into areas causing public concern and for industry to be asked to pay "a small percentage of net annual profits from the sale of the 'items' directly or indirectly responsible for the potential...risks."

The committee backed the rapporteur in calling for an independent assessment of risk before decisions are taken on response measures, adding that "interested parties" should contribute by "forwarding all the information at their disposal which might prove useful".

While supporting Ms Patrie's assertion that there should be no minimum risk threshold below which the precautionary principle may not be used, the committee added that "seeking to attain a zero risk, which is in practice rarely feasible, must not be confused with application of the precautionary principle".

Under another amendment, the committee voted for risk assessment procedures to be subject to "rigorous time limits" and for "immediate interim measures" to be available. MEPs disagreed with Ms Patrie's suggestion that any measures taken under the precautionary principle "must inevitably be temporary," agreeing instead that "most" must be temporary and that precautionary measures "must be maintained as long as the risk is considered too high".

In another segment of this week's session, the committee adopted a draft report responding to a Commission proposal released last year for an EU framework to promote sustainable urban development (ENDS Daily 9 December 1999). MEPs backed a call by rapporteur Marie-Noelle Lienemann's for a proposed three-year programme to have a budget of euros 20m rather than the euros 12.4m proposed by the Commission.

Follow Up:
European Parliament environment committee, tel: +32 2 284 2111. See the full reports here, marked "Precautionary principle - Patrie" and "Urban development - Lienemann".

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