EU market ministers adopt integration report

Council shuns precautionary principle, stresses need for "balanced approach"

EU ministers adopted a report on integrating environmental and sustainable development concerns into the Union's single market at a meeting of the Internal Market Council in Luxembourg yesterday. The report is one of six that will be submitted by different Council formations to the Helsinki summit of EU leaders in December.

The report stresses that the EU's new Amsterdam treaty requires not only a high level of environmental protection, but also other objectives, including a high level of employment and competitiveness of European industry. The challenge, it concludes, is to develop a "balanced approach" which should ensure that the "full economic benefits of the internal market are delivered in a way that is sustainable".

The Council calls for "positive efforts to be made to develop synergies" between an effective single market and higher environmental standards. It identifies opportunities both in the context of harmonising EU laws such as directives on packaging and chemicals, and through other instruments such as standardisation, voluntary agreements with industry and other market-oriented measures.

Standardisation is a "priority area" for future action, it concludes, and procedures should be further developed to involve "environmental bodies" in the standardisation process. The Council "reaffirms its commitment" to the EU ecolabel scheme and calls for "coordination" with national labelling schemes.

Ministers also support use of voluntary agreements with industry, both at member state and at EU level. The Council goes on to back moves to integrate environmental considerations into company financial statements, noting that the European Commission is due to issue a recommendation calling for enhanced disclosure of environmental costs and risks. In the same vein, ministers call for development of the EU's eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS), particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Council expresses "great interest" in environmental taxation, noting that a Commission communication on the subject shows there is "considerable scope" for action that can "improve the efficiency of environmental policy". Ministers pledge to take a "close interest" in future work by EU finance ministers on integrating environmental considerations into energy taxation.

One element absent from the document is any reference to the precautionary principle, despite the fact that the Commission earlier this year specifically dealt with the issue in a report to internal market ministers (ENDS Daily 10 June). The Council does, however, stress that the "principles of subsidiarity and proportionality must be borne in mind at all times".

The Council stresses that it will develop indicators to measure progress towards integration and invites the Commision to recommend ideas in the second half of next year. Ministers also pledge to "reflect" on ways to assess the environmental impacts of single market measures.

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

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