EU Commission to re-think ecolabel reform

Ministerial pressure convinces Bjerregaard that EU label should not replace national schemes

The European Commission is to drop its proposal for an EU-wide ecolabel that gradually replaces national schemes, EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard announced yesterday.

Speaking at a press conference at the end of the EU environment ministers' quarterly meeting in Luxembourg, Ms Bjerregaard said that, in the light of opposition at a private meeting with ministers and the European Parliament, the Commission would make major changes to its proposed reform of the six-year old product labelling scheme.

According to sources in the private meeting, it was the German delegation that led opposition to the proposed reforms. Germany is keen see its own ecolabel - the long-established Blue Angel - survive.

Mrs Bjerregaard said the Commission would act on these concerns. "It is quite clear that member states and the Parliament want to have national ecolabels existing side by side with the EU ecolabel. We will have to find ways of making that happen," she said.

The Commission would also re-think its proposal to set up a semi-autonomous body to regulate the EU scheme, said Ms Bjerregaard. Parliament voted against this idea last month on cost grounds (ENDS Daily 13 May). According to ministerial sources, most ministers were also unhappy about giving control of the system to an outside body.

The commissioner also noted a lack of support for the idea of awarding up to three "flower" ecolabel logos to a single product depending on its environmental credentials.

The changes to these three elements will strip the proposed regulation - first put forward by the Commission in December 1996 - down to its less controversial measures such as simplifying the procedure for setting criteria for awarding ecolabels to products.

A source from one ministerial delegation at Luxembourg told ENDS Daily: "Ministers do not like the graded label, the independent institution and the idea of abolishing national schemes. They want to streamline the procedures and I think the new proposal will focus on that and forget the other three items."

Ms Bjerregaard said that there remained widespread support for an EU label as long as it did not threaten the existing schemes. This view was supported by UK environment minister Michael Meacher who chaired the discussion. He said: "It's important in a single market to have a single system that consumers can have confidence in when they buy in the shops."

According to ministerial sources, Germany is likely to push the revised proposal through during its presidency which begins in January 1999.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: + 32 2 285 6111.

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