German EU presidency priorities emerge

EU's largest state plans to launch talks on EMAS, household hazardous waste, power plant emissions

The first signs of Germany's environmental priorities for its six-month stint as EU presidency are emerging following a meeting between German environment minister Angela Merkel and the current head of the Environment Council, Austria's Martin Bartenstein.

Germany will take over from Austria in January next year, to be followed by Finland in July. Climate will be an important part of its agenda as the EU digests the outcome of this autumn's meeting of parties to the UN climate change convention. Germany also looks likely to launch negotiations on a raft of proposed new legislation, though the forthcoming election introduces critical uncertainties on some dossiers.

Ministerial discussions will begin on how to revise the EU's eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS), according to Brussels diplomats, even though the European Commission's formal proposal has still to be published. Germany has far more EMAS registered companies than any other EU country and is keen to get agreement on the new regulation, which aims to increase the scheme's up-take across Europe.

Germany wants to pick up a draft law on the incineration of hazardous household waste, which is due to be put forward by the Commission before the end of the year. Bonn is also planning talks on the large combustion plants directive, which aims to limit acidifying gas emission from power stations built after 2000 (ENDS Daily 9 July).

Still in the field of air pollution, Germany will start discussions on a strategy to tackle low-level ozone pollution, which is due to be proposed by the Commission early next year, as well as a proposal to phase out use of the ozone depleters methyl bromide and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) (ENDS Daily 1 July) on which it aims to reach a Council of Ministers' common position. According to environment minister Angela Merkel, Germany will push its EU partners for an earlier phase-out than proposed by the Commission.

Germany is likely to continue Austria's work on the "end of life vehicle" car recycling proposal which ministerial working groups have just begun to look at. It will also carry forward discussions on the proposed "Auto/Oil" directive on emissions from heavy goods vehicles (ENDS Daily 3 December 1997) and will call on the Commission to develop a proposal on emissions from motorcycles, which have not so far been covered under Auto/Oil legislation.

Climate will remain an important issue for the German presidency following November's meeting of signatories to the UN climate change convention. Germany hopes the Commission will bring out a work programme to define an EU climate protection strategy after the Buenos Aires conference. Ms Merkel said Germany wants to focus on energy efficiency, renewables and reducing traffic emissions. Bonn will host a meeting of subsidiary bodies of the Climate Change Convention between 31 May and 11 June.

In assuming the presidency, Germany will also take hold of the "environmental baton" - a commitment to work to integrate environmental considerations into other policy areas (ENDS Daily 27 April). Bonn is planning an informal meeting of EU ministers in May on the issue of integrated product policies, where environmental problems are considered in all stages of production.

Though some policy priorities are likely to remain unaffected by Germany's general election later this month, others could be revised very significantly if the centre-left SPD succeeds in unseating the centre-right CDU/CSU governing coalition. In particular, if a Commission proposal to revise the 1990 directive on deliberate release of genetically modified organisms is not wrapped up by Austria, an SPD government might be less hostile to it than the current administration, according to sources.

Follow Up:
German environment ministry, tel: +49 228 3050.

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