EU plans to protect northern environment

"Northern dimension" programme to concentrate on air, water, nuclear, forests

The European Commission has unveiled plans for an environmental action programme to combat environmental degradation in northern Europe. The programme will involve greater coordination between EU and non-EU countries and will concentrate on water and air pollution, nuclear safety and natural resource management.

The plan is part of a broader thrust towards cooperation in several priority sectors between the northern countries of the EU and Russia, Norway, Iceland, Poland, and the Baltic states - Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. EU foreign ministers meeting in Helsinki today and yesterday agreed on a "northern dimension" action plan for the area, which they will submit for approval by heads of government next month. The concept has been strongly promoted by Finland during its presidency of the EU (ENDS Daily 31 May).

The environmental component of the plan responds to what the Commission calls "major causes for concern" in the region - pollution of the Baltic and Barents Seas, continuing soil acidification from air pollution originating outside the region, the presence of hundreds of redundant Russian nuclear submarines around the Kola peninsula and the exploitation of the "last untouched forests in Europe."

The Commission said today that the programme would combat these dangers by continuing to promote the integration of environmental consideration into policy making in economic sectors such as transport, energy and forestry. It would also build institutional and professional capacity to deal with the problems, and increase public participation and information provision.

Although no major administrative structures will be created, the Commission said that an environmental review panel would be set up to assess regional programmes "to obtain more efficient policy in key environmental sectors." Among the concrete actions it proposes are investments in major pollution hotspots, a regional programme to combat climate change, investment programmes to improve nuclear safety and a "reinforcement" of Helcom, the Baltic Sea protection commission.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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