MEPs call for EU strategy on city pollution

Three resolutions put pressure on Commission as it drafts urban action plan

The European Parliament today called for greater EU intervention to address growing economic, social and environmental problems in Europe's towns and cities. The Parliament's push comes as the European Commission is preparing an EU action plan for sustainable urban development, due to be adopted in September, which will be followed by a major "urban forum" in Vienna in November.

One of three resolutions passed today was tabled by UK Socialist MEP Anita Pollack. It presses the Commission to take action to protect the environment in cities. It calls on the Commission to produce more and better information on the state of the urban environment and to develop comparable sustainability indicators, as well as sustainability audit schemes to monitor cities' performance. It also recommends that the Commission should set up a cross-departmental urban affairs unit to improve policy coordination.

World Health Organisation guidelines for air quality and noise limits are exceeded on a regular basis in urban areas, the resolution points out. Furthermore, pollution effects cross national boundaries.

In a report accompanying the resolution, Ms Pollack points to estimates that the source of most sulphur dioxide and particulate matter contributing to winter pollution episodes in western Europe in 1985 and 1987 was traced to eastern European countries. Local polices to tackle pollution will not succeed without EU action too, she concludes.

A Commission official told ENDS Daily that the Parliament's resolution "will keep the pressure on" as proposals for an EU action plan go to all directorates for consultation in the next two weeks. Urban policy is a difficult issue for the Commission because it does not have specific legal competence to act in this area. Attempts to introduce this under the Amsterdam Treaty last year were rebuffed.

The plan is expected to list ongoing policies and projects and propose some new initiatives. One is likely to be a proposal that local authorities should be consulted when legislation is prepared on, for example, noise or water pollution, in order to address potential impacts on the urban environment. It is also likely to stress that coordination with local sustainable development initiatives will be necessary for the EU to meets its regional and international goals, especially on climate change.

Another issue raised in the resolution is a lack of funding for initiatives in urban areas. The Parliament points out that while 80% of the EU population lives in cities, more than half of EU funding goes to rural areas. Ms Pollack wants a new objective created under the EU's structural funds to support areas of urban decline.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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