Austrian EU presidency priorities revealed

Climate change, transport, to top Environment Council agenda from July, says minister

Climate change and transport issues will be Austria's main environmental priorities when it takes over the EU presidency from the UK in July, it was revealed today. Speaking at the end of a visit to Vienna by EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard, Austrian environment minister Martin Bartenstein said that his country would build on the UK's emphasis on transport.

"The transport sector causes us in Austria and in Europe the greatest concern regarding environmental damage," Mr Bartenstein said. He said that Austria would concentrate during its six months in the hot seat on completing difficult negotiations on EU directives developed under the Auto/Oil programme to set stricter fuel quality and vehicle emissions limits.

The minister also expressed optimism that a voluntary agreement could now be achieved with European car makers to improve average fuel efficiency, so reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Negotiations between the EU and the industry had been good, he said, but warned that Austria would nevertheless push for binding rules if a voluntary agreement could not be reached.

Speaking alongside Mr Bartenstein, Ritt Bjerregaard welcomed the forthcoming Austrian presidency. "Austria is known for its excellent environmental policies," she said. Europe as a whole has learned from Austria, she went on.

Ms Bjerregaard stressed the key role that Austria would have to play in taking forward international climate change negotiations following agreement of the Kyoto protocol last December. "Outside the EU, no one is ready to take the leading role in climate protection," she said, and as the EU presidency Austria must be prepared for difficult negotiations.

During its six-month term, Austria will also be responsible for continuing work started by the UK presidency to renegotiate the EU's internal "burden sharing" system of differentiated national targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Bartenstein said that "substantial problems" had to be overcome to reach a new agreement. He confirmed that Austria, like several other countries, was looking for a relaxation in its national commitment of a 25% emissions cut by 2010 agreed last March.

During her visit, Ms Bjerregaard also met with Austrian federal chancellor Viktor Klima as well as Austrian environmental groups and business representatives. According to the Commission, ways in which Austria could move the EU forward on integration of environmental and other policies featured on the agenda.

Diplomats in Brussels say that EU enlargement will also be a preoccupation of the Austrian presidency. Adjacent to EU applicant countries along nearly half of its frontier, Austria has particular concerns over nuclear power station safety, the potential for increased transit traffic and air quality, one told ENDS Daily.

Follow Up:
Austrian environment ministry, tel: +43 1 515 22 50 50.

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