Speaking in an open debate at today's EU Environment Council meeting in Brussels, the Dutch minister Margaretha de Boer said the Netherlands wanted to see progress on directives introduced under the Auto/Oil programme and the EU acidification strategy before it would sign up to stricter limits on ambient levels of lead, particulates, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
Although Ms de Boer welcomed the directive in principle, she said that the Netherlands suffered from pollution originating from neighbouring countries and wanted to make sure this was tackled before committing the Netherlands to the new air quality limits proposed by the Commission in the first daughter directive to the framework directive on air quality. "We would need further clarification before we could agree to these limit values," she told fellow ministers.
On behalf of the EU presidency, UK junior environment minister Michael Meacher said he would resist any pressure to delay the air quality directive. He told ENDS Daily: "I really don't feel that the linkages between these issues should allowed to hold this up. My strong intention is to move to a common position [at the next Environment Council ministerial] in June."
Ms de Boer insisted that the Netherlands was not seeking to de-rail the air quality directive but, if necessary, to delay it while the two other issues were further developed.
The proposed measures, which set maximum levels for the four pollutants along guidelines established by the World Health Organisation, received broad support from all EU countries today. Mediterranean states said that there must be the flexibility in the legislation to take account of natural sources of pollution, particularly of particulates, from volcanoes and wind-borne Saharan dust.
The Spanish minister, Isabel Tocino, added that northern Europe's climate was more prone to strong winds which disperse air pollution than the south, suggesting that the directive take this into account. Germany's Angela Merkel said any special cases for derogation should be strictly controlled by the Commission.
* The Environment Council ended this afternoon with formal agreement on a range of EU environmental legislation. Ministers also signed the Kyoto protocol on climate change, took stock of EU discussions on climate change issues, and gave the European Commission the go ahead to further negotiate with the car industry for a voluntary agreement on improving vehicle fuel efficiency to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. A full round-up of the Environment Council will appear in tomorrow's issue of ENDS Daily.
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.
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