MEPs mull pollution-related illness plan

Commission disappointed as rapporteur recommends few changes from Council position

The environment committee of the European Parliament has begun its second reading of an EU research plan on diseases related to pollution. Parliamentary rapporteur on the issue, French UFE member Christian Cabrol disappointed the European Commission at yesterday's discussion by proposing few changes from a common position reached by the Council of Ministers in June.

As proposed by the Commission last summer (ENDS Daily 19 June 1997), the action plan would have run over five years, with the principal goal of improving understanding of pollution-related diseases such as asthma. The proposal also aimed at increasing public awareness and supporting bodies such as self-help groups working on respiratory diseases and allergies.

At its first reading, the Parliament called for the programme to be given an Ecu14m budget over its five year term, effectively double that proposed by the Commission, which had suggested first-year funding of Ecu1.3m.

But in a common position reached this June, the Council of Ministers reduced the plan's term from five to three years and set a budget of Ecu3.9m over the full term, equivalent to the Commission's proposal. Provisions for support to organisations working on pollution-related illnesses were also cut, restricting the plan to purely scientific role.

Mr Cabrol yesterday recommended that the Parliament accept the main lines of the Council agreement, including the overall budget. He said that the plan should be accepted in the present form if it were "seen as a first step" to a "more ambitious" EU-wide epidemiological survey.

The recommendation drew criticism from an official in the Commission's social affairs directorate, which drafted the original proposal. Christine Schatzel said that the Commission was "surprised that the house would let this go without any major comments". As now proposed, she said, research results from the plan would receive "absolutely no attention" from anybody other than scientists. Ms Schatzel hoped that the Parliament would reinstate Commission proposals cut by the ministers at its second reading, which is likely to be in September.

Mr Cabrol replied that the Commission had proposed a plan to gather data rather than for immediate action to fight against pollution-related illnesses, and that this element remained intact. However, other committee members may still propose amendments to toughen the proposal. A spokesperson for the Greens said his party would try to replace all the first reading amendments lost in the Council's common position.

Follow Up:
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