Finland plans philosophical EU ministerial

Helsinki meeting will look at underlying environmental problems; climate remains top priority

The Finnish presidency of the EU will ask environment ministers to discuss the fundamental environmental challenges faced by member states when they meet at an informal gathering in Helsinki at the end of next week. Under an unusually philosophical agenda, Finland's Satu Hassi will steer discussions on climate change, eco-efficiency and the environmental challenges and opportunities of expanding the EU eastwards.

In a background discussion paper prepared for the meeting, the presidency says that achieving the greenhouse gas reduction target of 8% of 1990 levels by 2008-12 will be the EU's greatest environmental challenge in the coming years. To tackle this, the paper says, promoting "eco-efficiency" and breaking the link between economic growth and environmental damage are essential.

Echoing recent calls from the European Commission's environment directorate (DGXI) to aim for a factor ten improvement in resource and pollution efficiency (ENDS Daily 11 June), the paper says this could be achieved within 50 years, if eco-efficiency were improved by 5% a year. Policies to help reach this target would include economic instruments such as environmental taxes and charges and the removal of subsidies for harmful activities, says the paper.

Ministers will be asked to use the Helsinki meeting to kick off in-depth discussions about integrating environmental issues into other areas of policy making, in preparation for a summit meeting in December where government chiefs will look to advance the so-called "Cardiff process". Finland will ask whether more sectoral groupings of the EU Council of Ministers should report on how they can integrate environmental concerns, in addition to the nine that are already doing so (ENDS Daily 23 June). The paper suggests tourism and consumer affairs as two areas that might be targeted and also recommends setting a deadline - possibly 2001 - for getting tangible results from the sectoral integration strategies.

In addition to the 15 EU ministers, Finland has invited the 11 countries which are in the process of applying to join the EU to attend the meeting, and a large part of the agenda will be given over to looking at the challenges and opportunities EU expansion presents for environmental protection. With a predicted 65% increase in GDP in the candidate countries from 1995 to 2010, Finland says efforts to improve energy efficiency will be a top priority.

Follow Up:
Finnish Presidency of the EU, tel: +358 205 1999.

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