Finns gear up for autumn EU policy talks

EU presidency prepares to launch major environmental negotiations after summer break

The Finnish presidency of the EU is keeping up to schedule with its environmental policy agenda, according to diplomats. As the national delegations in Brussels met for the last time this week before the summer break, the presidency had cleared the decks of outstanding dossiers - including the controversial scrap cars proposal (ENDS Daily 22 July) - and paved the way for negotiations of four new draft directives to start in the autumn.

When the delegations get back to work on 2 September, they will begin negotiating the details of a presidency proposal on the draft air quality directive to limit benzene and carbon monoxide in ambient air - two pollutants that come mostly from traffic fumes. Diplomats held initial discussions on the dossier yesterday, and it looks like the only major point of contention is proposed limit values for emissions of benzene.

This was always going to be a problematic element as there are no internationally accepted "safe" limits recognised for cancer-causing chemicals (ENDS Daily 2 December 1998). The southern member states are likely to push for an increase in the Commission's proposed limit of 5 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) to be reached by 2010, while the "progressive" Nordic states will try get make it even stricter.

In September, the presidency will also present its revised proposals for the Commission's draft "national emission ceilings" directive, which will limit emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia (ENDS Daily 9 June).

Diplomats will discuss the dossier in parallel with a Commission proposal to cut emissions from large combustion plants (ENDS Daily 16 July). However, Finland is aiming to get agreement only on the combustion plants proposal at this stage, as it thinks there may not be time to complete work on the emission ceilings directive before its mandate runs out at the end of the year. Discussions on a related proposal - to set targets for limiting ambient levels ground level ozone - will be put off until these other two dossiers have been taken further.

Other major negotiations between EU governments expected this autumn will include talks on the long-ignored proposal to have mandatory strategic environmental assessments of infrastructure plans and programmes - the so-called strategic environmental assessment directive (ENDS Daily 13 July), and a proposal to set minimum standards for environmental inspections of industrial facilities (ENDS Daily 31 March).

The presidency hopes EU environment ministers will reach agreement on these proposals when they meet in Brussels in December. The other formal ministerial, in Luxembourg on 12 October, will be used for the politicians to discuss some of the issues without aiming to reach agreement at that stage. The only common position expected in October is an uncontroversial decision to set a legal framework for the EU's spending on actions in the area of accidental marine pollution.

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

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