Denmark pushes for stricter EU ecolabel rules

Most EU countries oppose proposal to restrict eligibility of products to apply for label

A Danish proposal to exclude from the EU ecolabelling scheme any products which damage human health or the environment at any stage of their life cycle is proving a last minute sticking point as environment ministers prepare to reach a common position on revising the scheme later this month.

Member state officials discussed the issue in Brussels yesterday in preparation for the 24-25 June Environment Council. ENDS Daily understands that Denmark was not supported by any other countries in the meeting, but that environment minister Svend Auken is "sticking to his guns".

A Danish diplomat told ENDS Daily that the proposal was a "question of the credibility of the entire ecolabel scheme". However, another member state official stressed that the plan might permanently exclude whole categories of products from the scheme that were generally environmentally beneficial. "We need an incremental approach to bring more manufacturers into the ecolabel fold," the source said, "rather than preaching 'thou shalt not'."

The EU's German presidency is now left with a "complicated" task to broker a speedy compromise in time for formal ratification at the Environment Council, according to another source. ENDS Daily understands that this could involve a commitment to review the issue at a later date.

On most other aspects of the ecolabel scheme's revision, compromises have now been achieved, ENDS Daily understands. Key among these is a provision to allow existing national and regional schemes to continue to exist side-by-side with the EU label. The Commission had wanted a commitment that these schemes would avoid developing criteria for products where an EU label was planned, but this was rejected by the Nordic countries, Germany and Austria, whose schemes are much further advanced.

Instead, measures to ensure "necessary coordination" will be worked after the scheme is adopted, based on majority voting among members of the board. The UK, which had led calls for a convergence of schemes around the EU label, will sign up to the compromise, "but reluctantly," according to Brussels sources.

Other parts of the proposal include creation of a board composed of competent bodies from member states and a consultation forum of trade bodies and consumer groups – "essentially a formalisation of the present system." The previous requirement for life-cycle analysis has been replaced with a "more flexible" requirement to use life-cycle considerations, to fit with the latest ISO 14001 international standards. Proposals for a graded label will be dropped, but labels will carry space for a brief description of the intended benefit. Agreement has also been reached to extended the label to services.Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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