This is the commissioner's first public statement on the sustainable development strategy since EU heads of state asked for it at their summit in Luxembourg last December (ENDS Daily 15 December 1997). The Commission's environment directorate, DGXI, has now been given the task of drafting the document, which is to be delivered to the next European Council summit in Cardiff in June.
Speaking to representatives of European parliamentary environment committees in Copenhagen on Thursday, Ms Bjerregaard highlighted the European Commission's Agenda 2000 proposals on EU enlargement and on reform of EU agricultural and "structural" funds as areas that the strategy would address.
ENDS Daily understands that the commissioner is keen to include Agenda 2000 in the strategy for at least three reasons. Agenda 2000 is seen as among the most significant package of policies in any field to be adopted during the Commission's current five-year term. Second, Agenda 2000 has already been supported in outline by all European Commissioners in a first policy statement released last June. Third, environmental issues are seen as crucial components in major elements of Agenda 2000.
Enlargement of the EU through the possible accession of a further 11 countries in central and eastern Europe and Cyprus, in particular, is seen as presenting a massive environmental challenge.
In her speech, Ms Bjerregaard made a specific plea for applicant countries to be given full membership of the European Environment Agency (EEA) ahead of eventual membership of the EU. A spokesperson for the EEA told ENDS Daily that the agency was "delighted" by the proposal, and that there was no reason why applicant countries should not join the EEA this year as long as EEA enlargement was reflected in an increased budget.
The general goal of the sustainable development strategy is to examine how the EU can apply new clauses agreed in the Amsterdam treaty last year which will make sustainable development a core objective of the Union and commit it to integrating environmental protection requirements into other policies.
Little is known yet of the shape these proposals will take, and Ms Bjerregaard did not elaborate in her speech. However, she did use the occasion to stress that she saw the paper as an opportunity to "achieve a renewed commitment from the highest political level" to policy integration and to the goal of sustainable development.
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.
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