EU presidency chided on policy integration

EEB criticises absence of strategic environmental assessment directive from UK's agenda

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) today brought to a swift end the UK's honeymoon period as new chair of the EU Environment Council, strongly questioning the UK's stated intention of promoting integration of environmental and other policies.

At a press conference in Brussels, the EEB's EU policy director Christian Hey deplored the UK's decision not to prioritise work on the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) directive. "Progress on SEA is the test for the credibility of the UK government on environmental policy integration," he said. "Without early assessment of the environmental impacts of sectoral policy decisions and their public discussions, the idea of environmental policy integration remains empty wording."

In its announcement of priorities for its six-month term chairing Environment Council discussions, the UK has stressed policy integration as a principal objective. The presidency plans to hold two joint meetings of environment and transport ministers, and has also said it will try to fuse environmental and fisheries policies more closely. The SEA directive is notable by its absence from presidency plans, announced last Wednesday (ENDS Daily 7 January).

Proposed by the European Commission in December 1996, the SEA directive advanced little under the Netherlands presidency in the first half of 1997 and not at all under Luxembourg's chairmanship, which ended on 31 December. The EEB is unhappy that the proposal has once again been passed over in favour of other priorities. It has launched a campaign to make SEA "a cornerstone of EU environmental policies".

Today, the EEB issued a challenge to the UK to put the SEA directive on the agenda of the June Environment Council. It also called on Austria, which will succeed the UK on 1 July, to promote a formal agreement on the measure before the end of the year.

Policy integration should be the watchword of the UK's presidency, the EEB said. It suggested that focusing on integration could achieve "synergy rather than conflict" in several key EU policy areas. These include the current review of the EU structural funds, which broadly support poorer EU member states, and the common agricultural policy. The UK should also show leadership by setting a clear new direction for transport policy based on the principles of sustainable development and reducing the need to travel, the EEB argued.

Follow Up:
EEB, tel: +32 2 289 1090. References: "EEB Memorandum to the UK Presidency and the EU Member States."

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