Surprise deal reached on EU 5th action plan

EU Council accepts most of Parliament's demands, averting formal conciliation talks

The EU Council of Ministers and European Parliament have surprised everyone - including themselves - by reaching an informal deal on a legally binding decision setting out the EU's environmental goals until 2000.

UK environment minister Michael Meacher yesterday described the recently achieved compromise on the mid-term review of the EU's fifth environmental action programme as a "remarkable achievement". A parliamentary source commented: "this was expected to be much harder".

The two institutions were due to enter into a formal conciliation process to resolve their remaining disagreements before the end of May (ENDS Daily 29 January). Instead, they have now resolved the main issues in informal talks and the compromise is expected to be officially adopted without further discussion during a formal conciliation committee meeting in early June.

It will then have to be ratified by ministers - probably at the Environment Council in June - and by the Parliament in July.

Mr Meacher, who is acting head of the Environment Council, said representatives of the two institutions had achieved "a good compromise text which we can all be happy with." Parliamentary sources told ENDS Daily that they were also pleased with the outcome, for which they appear to have good grounds.

In particular, the Parliament has won a key battle with the Council to give greater legal weight to EU environmental objectives in sectors such as agriculture, transport, industry and tourism. For all these objectives, instead of reading "priorities are...," the text now says that "the priority objectives of the Community shall be...".

The compromise also confirms the rights of member states, particularly the newest members Austria, Finland and Sweden, to maintain higher environmental standards than those in force at EU level.

Another important change is an acknowledgement that the fifth environmental action programme constitutes no more than a "useful start" to the process of achieving sustainable development. The Commission is called upon to review the implementation of the programme in 2000 with proposals for further action.

There are stronger requirements on integrating environmental objectives during a reform of the common agricultural policy and reviewing the EU's waste strategy. The Commission is expected to attach declarations to the final decision stating its efforts on each of these issues and another on environmental liability.

There is also a specific call on the EU to develop a noise abatement strategy with targets for noise quality and emissions from products. Finally, the compromise text urges EU states to lead the way internationally with action on climate change, endangered species protection and persistent organic pollutants.

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

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