EU Environment Council meeting preview

Ministers aim to reach agreement on eight dossiers; spotlight on scrap cars, GMOs

Scrap cars and genetically modified organisms will be the most politically charged issues to be discussed at the quarterly meeting of EU environment ministers this week. The last Environment Council meeting under the German EU presidency takes place in Luxembourg on Thursday and Friday and it is possible that the politicians could reach a common position on a total of eight legislative proposals.

COMMON POSITIONS EXPECTED

End of life vehicles directive:

All eyes will be on German environment minister Jürgen Trittin to see whether he will again try to block the common position on this directive, which would have been agreed in March but for a last minute intervention by Germany (ENDS Daily 11 March). Mr Trittin is under pressure from the car industry and his own boss, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, to alter the draft's requirement for car manufacturers to meet the cost of scrapping old cars. According to reports in the German press, Mr Schröder has even threatened his environment minister with the sack if he insists in sticking to the text which he informally agreed to last December (ENDS Daily 22 December 1998).

The signals from Mr Trittin are very unclear. A week ago, he sent a letter, seen by ENDS Daily, to his EU colleagues stating that Germany would not try to postpone the common position or change the text. But days later he sent another letter saying that Germany's position was not yet decided.

There is speculation in Brussels that the presidency has been trying to persuade other car producing countries to take the initiative to propose a postponement in order to avoid a repeat of the embarrassment the government suffered in March. However it is unlikely that any country would want to take the blame for once again delaying a common position that was virtually ready for adoption six months ago.

GMO "deliberate release" directive:

Germany had been criticised for making little progress on the revision on the EU's key directive for granting marketing approval for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but in recent weeks the EU presidency has stepped up the pace of negotiations and a common position is now felt to be more likely than not (ENDS Daily 18 June).

There are still a number of important points to be decided, including how simplified approval procedures for "low-risk" GMOs would work, the use of antibiotic resistant "marker" genes and the duration of marketing approvals. Aside from the negotiations on the proposed directive, Greece will invite its EU partners to sign up to its declaration that they will not vote to approve any new GMOs until the new legislation is in place.

Incineration of waste directive:

Ministers are set to follow the European Parliament's initiative to merge EU legislation on hazardous and non-hazardous waste. However, unlike the parliament, they are likely to maintain different pollution emissions limits for the two waste streams (ENDS Daily 11 May). A number of issues remain to be solved by ministers including the conditions that should apply to "co-incineration" plants - such as cement kilns - that burn waste for fuel. Some countries, notably Italy, are concerned that allowing lower emissions standards for such plants could lead to a drop in environmental standards.

Ecolabel regulation:

The German presidency is keen to get agreement on the revision of the regulation governing the EU's six year-old green product labelling scheme. Member states had previously rejected a proposal from the Commission that said the EU label should replace existing national or regional schemes (ENDS Daily 27 January). The current text aims to extend the labelling scheme to the service sector and retailers, rather than just products.

Eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) regulation:

Very few obstacles remain in the way of a common position updating the 1993 regulation on the voluntary eco-audit scheme. The revision will extend participation in the scheme from industrial plants to any type of organisation including service sector businesses.

LIFE - EU nature fund regulation:

National delegations remain undecided over what should be the indicative budget for this five-year plan to help fund projects in the fields of environmental protection and nature conservation. Certain delegation support the European Parliament's view that it should be increased from the euros 613m proposed by the Commission to euros 850m.

Noise from outdoor equipment directive:

This technical dossier aims to reduce noise from a whole range of outdoor machinery but the main disagreements have centred around lawnmowers. To get a common position ministers still have to agree on whether or not to reduce the maximum noise emissions limit value for domestic lawnmowers from that proposed by the Commission (ENDS Daily 19 May). Belgium, Denmark, France, Sweden and the Netherlands all support amending the text. The UK is leading opposition to this, wanting instead to stick to the Commission's proposal.

Emissions from tractors directive:

There is consensus on the proposal to bring agricultural tractors under the same air emissions rules that already apply to other off road machinery under a 1997 directive (97/68). It will affect new models of tractors put on the market after September 2000.

COUNCIL CONCLUSIONS EXPECTED

Ministers will make official statements on the future of EU chemicals policy, the state of negotiations with Japanese and Korean car makers on reducing average carbon dioxide emissions, the UN convention on biological diversity and the draft biosafety protocol, climate change (ENDS Daily 19 May) and environmental integration.

Ministers will also discuss the long-neglected proposal on assessing the environmental impact of infrastructure plans and programmes (or strategic environmental assessment), which the incoming Finnish presidency may make a priority for ministerial negotiations in the second half of this year. (ENDS Daily 23 October 1998).

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

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