EU chiefs promote sustainable development

Leaders call for major Commission proposal in 2001; fail to review Council integration strategies

EU leaders have advanced the "Cardiff" environmental integration process by inviting the European Commission to prepare by June 2001 a long-term policy proposal on sustainable development. The paper will form a major part of the EU's assessment of progress in implementing sustainable development since the 1992 "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro.

Heads of government agreed the statement at their Helsinki summit, which ran from Friday to Saturday. The meeting communiqué also calls on nine formations of the EU Council of Ministers to complete work on environmental policy integration and to submit "comprehensive strategies" to them by June 2001.

Once completed, these sectoral strategies should be followed by "immediate implementation," EU chiefs agreed. They added that there should be "regular follow-up and monitoring...so that the strategies can be adjusted and deepened," and called on the Council and Commission to develop "adequate instruments and applicable data" to support this process.

Close observers of the Cardiff process today welcomed the leaders' call for a fully fledged EU sustainable development policy and for rapid implementation and follow-up of sectoral integration strategies, but expressed disappointment over other elements of the Helsinki deal. A spokesperson for EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström said that "stronger language would have been preferable".

The most glaring omission, ENDS Daily was told, was that EU leaders did not, as had been expected, review the draft environmental integration strategies submitted to them by EU agriculture, energy and transport ministers. NGO coalition, the European Environmental Bureau said it was disappointed that EU leaders had "refused...to provide leadership in changing the trends in three of the most troublesome sectors for the environment".

A second backward step, according to sources, was that a final round of negotiating at Helsinki significantly weakened pressure on sectoral Councils to produce ambitious environmental integration strategies. Whereas the six Councils that submitted reports to Helsinki were all asked specifically to include "timetables and indicators," the goal set by EU leaders for 2001 is now for the preparation of comprehensive strategies "with the possibility of including" timetables and indicators.

For the first time in four European Councils, no further EU ministerial formations were asked to prepare plans. Those now set to report in 18 months' time are: energy, transport, agriculture, development cooperation, internal market, industry, general affairs, ecofin (finance) and fisheries.

Follow Up:
Finnish EU presidency; Helsinki Summit web pages, including the full text of the summit communiqué.

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