Fischer sets out German presidency priorities

EU spending reform will be key test, German foreign minister tells European Parliament

Germany is determined to complete major reforms of EU spending policies in the next two months, the country's foreign minister Joschka Fischer told the European Parliament today. Speaking in Strasbourg, Mr Fischer said it was a key priority of Germany's EU presidency term to settle the so-called Agenda 2000 reforms by the end of March, when heads of government will meet at a summit dedicated to the issue.

Agenda 2000 seeks to rationalise the common agricultural policy (CAP) and structural funds, which together make up more than 80% of EU spending. The environment stands to benefit from the reforms, which could make EU pay-outs more dependent on environmental performance (ENDS Daily 16 July 1997).

Mr Fischer underlined the issue's urgency and stressed that without agreement, the EU would be unable to accept new member states from central and eastern Europe. The present CAP could not be sustained in an EU which included the more agriculture-based central European economies, he said. He added, however, that Germany wanted to push ahead with accession negotiations, and said EU enlargement was one of four priority areas for the presidency along with Agenda 2000, jobs and progress towards a common foreign policy.

The minister made no mention of EU tax harmonisation, although Germany is known to be keen on the issue. Brussels diplomats will continue to discuss a two year-old proposal for a directive on minimum levels for tax on energy products, but officials say privately that there is little optimism for much progress on this highly charged political issue.

Germany is also keen to discuss the possibility of taxing aviation fuel, but it is waiting for a report from the European Commission. This report, which is expected soon, will examine the effects on EU competitiveness of such a tax, and will form the basis of diplomatic discussions.

Mr Fischer made no reference to specific environment policies in his speech, but German diplomats in Brussels are confident of making progress on a large number of negotiations before July.

The presidency hopes to finalise the draft directive on emissions from heavy duty vehicles. Pending first readings from the European Parliament, it wants to re-start negotiations to revise the 1990 directive on the "deliberate release" of genetically modified organisms, to agree the draft water framework directive, and possibly to adopt a final version of the scrap cars directive.

Diplomats have already begun discussing a revision of the EU eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) and a waste incineration directive. This month, they will look at a revision of the EU ecolabel and the "Life" funding scheme for environmental projects. Time permitting, the presidency will also pick up the draft directive on benzene and carbon monoxide levels in air, and a proposal to limit noise from outdoor equipment.

At a meeting last month with EU environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard, German environment minister, Jürgen Trittin, said he would like to make progress on a directive on environmental liability, which has yet to be proposed by the European Commission. He also said he would put the issue of integrated product policy on the agenda of an informal ministerial meeting in May.

Follow Up:
German environment ministry, tel: +49 228 3050;

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