Conciliation begins on EU action programme

Presidency rejects most Parliament demands; call for binding actions will be key issue

Representatives of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have begun informal behind-the-scenes talks to reach an agreement on the EU's priorities under its fifth environmental action programme. The UK Presidency has put forward a proposal that rejects most of the Parliament's demands, paving the way for stormy talks.

While negotiators have drawn a veil over their bargaining positions for the talks, one told ENDS Daily today that a key issue is likely to be the Parliament's demand for more legally binding EU-wide actions to restore the programme's credibility. The Presidency has rejected this demand.

It is now over two years since the European Commission proposed a draft plan to secure "renewed political commitment" from ministers to the fifth environmental action programme which runs from 1992 to 2000. The draft plan lists several priority areas for action, but contains few specific commitments.

This was one of the main criticisms made by the Parliament when it adopted 28 amendments to the draft last summer (ENDS Daily 17 July 1997). According to one of the Parliament's principal negotiators, MEP Lone Dybkjaer, incorporating binding Community actions into the draft plan, together with deadlines for their achievement, is crucial to the credibility of the programme.

In fact, the Presidency's proposal rejects or dilutes most of the amendments wanted by the Parliament. This includes a demand calling for a shift of taxation from employment to resource use and pollution; and another calling for the phase-out of persistent organic pollutants that are harmful to the environment or human health, where environmentally-friendly alternatives are available.

One of the few areas where the Council and Parliament appear to share common ground is on the Parliament's call for a "green" measure of EU gross national product to be formulated by 1999. The Presidency says it should be possible as a first step to encourage the development of "satellite" environmental accounts to supplement national financial accounts.

The meetings that have taken place in the last two weeks are described as a "pre-conciliation" process designed to reach agreement on the key differences between the parties. Negotiators will now return to the Council and the Parliament to get their backing for their strategy for the formal conciliation talks which will start later this year.

Follow Up:
Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111; European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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