EU Environment Council round-up

Water framework deal agreed; combustion plants, waste incineration, Emas, debated

EU environment ministers reached only one firm agreement at yesterday's quarterly meeting in Brussels, which was dominated by talks on climate change (see separate article in today's edition) and uncertainty whether the scrap car directive would be voted on (ENDS Daily 11 March 1999). Here is a round-up of the main agenda items:

Water framework directive

- political agreement with view to common position (with no further debate)

Ministers passed amendments to the proposed directive - which will set new standards for management of all EU water resources into the next century - that had been agreed under the UK presidency in June last year (ENDS Daily 18 June 1998). Added to this text were a handful of extra amendments reached in talks with the European Parliament in January (ENDS Daily 12 February).

Ministers turned down attempts by EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard to add two other amendments to the text which had also been requested by the parliament. These would have strengthened the text's reference to reducing emissions of hazardous substances in line with international agreements, especially the north-east Atlantic treaty, Ospar. They would also have reduced the possible time derogations for implementing the directive from a maximum of 34 years to 28 years.

Although there was fairly strong support for the Commission's proposals, ministers agreed to stick to the existing text, rather than re-open the whole package for debate. As the dossier now returns to parliament for a second reading, these issues will be back on the discussion table in the autumn when Ms Bjerregaard says she will help the parliament to push amendments through.

Large combustion plants (LCP) directive

- policy debate

Spain and Greece came out against this proposal to set limits on emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and dust from large combustion plants (such as power stations) built after 2000 (ENDS Daily 3 February). They argue that as the draft directive is aimed at reducing acidification (as well as ground level ozone), they should not have to apply such strict limits as their geographical location means they do not contribute of suffer from acid rain.

In the run up to the meeting, Spain had called for a change in the directive's legal base, claiming that it should require a unanimous vote, rather than the qualified majority foreseen by the European Commission. This would allow it to veto the legislation. The Council's legal service gave its opinion yesterday, saying that there might be a case for changing the legal base, but that a country demanding a change would have to show that the proposed legislation would have a significant impact on its energy requirements. Under the EU constitution, matters that affect a member state's energy requirements have to be agreed unanimously.

According to one diplomat, there was a fair degree of support to consider the LCP proposal alongside a forthcoming proposal to set national emissions ceilings for SO2, NOX as well as ammonia (NH3) and volatile organic compounds, as the two dossiers are aimed at reducing acidification and ozone and will overlap. "I think there will be some kind of package," she said. The Commission is expected to release the national emissions proposal next week.

Waste incineration directive

- progress report

Ministers have still not decided whether to merge two proposals currently on the table. One aims to revise the 1994 directive on hazardous waste incineration, the other to revise two 1989 directives on non-hazardous waste incineration, including a proposed extension to cover co-incineration of waste and fuel, such as in cement kilns (ENDS Daily 3 February). French environment minister Dominique Voynet said she wanted to make sure that rules on hazardous waste incineration remain far stricter than those on non-hazardous.

Eco-management and audit system (EMAS)

- policy debate

No major advance was made on the revision of the EMAS regulation, which governs the voluntary EU environmental management system for companies (ENDS Daily 19 January). Ministers debated how often companies should produce a public environmental report, with some arguing that every three years was sufficient rather than the current annual requirement. They also expressed strong support for finding ways to help small and medium-sized enterprises sign up to the scheme. Among the suggestions were a support fund for SMEs and a possible start-up period for new participants, during which the scheme's requirements would be relaxed.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

- Council conclusions

The proposed revision of the 1990 EU directive on licensing testing and commercialisation of GMOs in the environment - the "deliberate release" directive - was not on the meeting agenda, as texts had yet to be finalised in all languages following the European Parliament's first reading (ENDS Daily 11 February). However ministers did touch on the GMO debate by making a formal statement about the recent international biosafety talks in Colombia (ENDS Daily 24 February). Ministers said they were disappointed that the Cartagena talks had failed to settle the issue and said they hoped an agreement could be found, preferably before the next meeting of the conference of the parties to the UN biodiversity convention.

Short-chained chlorinated paraffins

Under "other business" Germany and Finland asked the European Commission when it intended to legislate to phase out the use of short-chained chlorinated paraffins, a range of chemicals used as plasticisers and flame retardants. Under the Paris convention (PARCOM) - an international agreement to protect the north-east Atlantic, now called Ospar - it is foreseen to phase the chemicals out because they are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. Ms Bjerregaard replied that a risk assessment of the chemicals was under way in order to decide on a future course of action.

* In a related development:

During their marathon negotiating session that ended on Wednesday, EU agriculture ministers gave formal assent without debate to three common positions relating to environmental proposals. Each of the dossiers was agreed politically by environment ministers last December. They are a revised regulation on substances that deplete the ozone layer (ENDS Daily 22 December 1998), a directive on monitoring CO2 emissions from passenger cars, and a directive on giving consumers information about CO2 emissions (ENDS Daily 6 October 1998).

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: + 32 2 285 6111.

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