Integration and air top EU ministers' agenda

Finland's first formal environment Council to include public debate on national emissions ceilings

Air pollution and environmental integration will be the dominant themes of debate when EU environment ministers meet for a formal EU Council in Luxembourg on 12 October. The agenda for the first of two formal environment ministerials of the six-month Finish EU presidency was agreed by Brussels diplomats this week.

In one of a number of policy statements - or "Council conclusions" - ministers will state their collective view on the state of the so-called Cardiff process of integrating environmental considerations into other EU policy areas. This will be the last chance for environment ministers to give a political push to the integration process before the topic is discussed by EU heads of state and government at a meeting in Finland on 10 and 11 December.

According to Brussels diplomats there is still a great deal of disagreement on the draft text, especially over whether it should call for specific policies to be included in the major new sixth environmental action programme promised by EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström (ENDS Daily 3 September). The statement is likely to include a call for the Commission to explain what it itself is doing to ensure environmental concerns are integrated into its internal functioning.

Over lunch, the European Commission will present ministers with a working paper showing how far its thinking has developed on creating indicators - ways of monitoring environmental improvements in various sectors. Indicators are seen as a crucial part of the integration process because they will show in easily understandable terms whether policies in sectors such as transport, energy and agriculture are reducing environmental impacts (ENDS Daily 8 September).

Ministers will address air pollution in an "open" debate where they will have the chance to state publicly their views on the proposed directive to set national emissions ceilings for four air pollutants. Unlike for the rest of the day's discussions, which are held in private, members of the press and public will be able to watch this session on television screens in the Council building in Brussels. The Finnish presidency recognises that it will be difficult to reach a common position on this dossier by the end of the year, but hopes to get an agreement on the closely linked draft directive on emissions from large combustion plants by December (ENDS Daily 23 July).

As is usually the case for the first formal ministerial of any EU presidency, this meeting will be to have policy discussions than to actually pass legislation. The only common position scheduled for adoption is on a proposed EU framework for cooperation in the field of accidental marine pollution. Following changes to the EU constitution in the Amsterdam treaty, this EU "decision" can be fully adopted in October without the need for a second reading if ministers accept a handful of amendments from the European Parliament. This will be the first time the environment Council has used this procedure.

CO2 from cars, climate change:

Ministers will adopt Council conclusions on voluntary deals reached with Japanese and Korean car makers to reduce average carbon dioxide in new vehicles (ENDS Daily 12 August), and on climate change in the run up to the fifth conference of the parties to the UN climate change convention at the end of October (ENDS Daily 15 September).

Benzene and CO in air, GMOs:

They will also discuss the proposed directive limiting levels of benzene and carbon monoxide in ambient air (ENDS Daily 2 December 1998) and the state of negotiations aimed at agreeing an international biosafety protocol to set rules on the trade in genetically modified organisms (ENDS Daily 21 September).

Sulphur in fuels:

The German delegation will call for the Commission to propose tighter limits on the level of sulphur allowed in motor fuels. Germany feels that the limit of 50 parts per million (ppm) sulphur by 2005 limit agreed under the Auto/Oil fuel quality directive in 1998 does not go far enough and wants to propose a limit of 10 parts per million (ppm) by 2007.

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

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