European Parliament plenary round-up

Auto/Oil conciliation, nitrate pollution, strategic environmental assessment on the agenda

The European Parliament held its first plenary session after the summer break this week. In a headline-grabbing decision, MEPs called for industrialised countries to achieve the majority of their commitments under the Kyoto climate change protocol by making domestic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as reported in yesterday's edition of ENDS Daily. Today we round up other significant environmental dossiers dealt with by the Parliament during the session.

Auto/Oil conciliation deal approved

MEPs voted by large margins to approve three legislative proposals that comprise the first results of the EU's Auto/Oil package of measures setting new environmental standards for motor fuels and emissions from cars and light vans. The result is not a surprise since the Parliament won significant concessions from the Council of Ministers in conciliation negotiations before the summer break (ENDS Daily 30 June).

After formal approval by the Council of Ministers, the new laws will enter into force, requiring a two-step improvement in exhaust standards and fuel quality in 2000 and 2005. The inclusion of mandatory 2005 standards represents a major victory for the Parliament over other EU institutions and the car and oil industries, which all favoured setting "indicative" rather than mandatory 2005 standards at this stage.

Other key elements of the package include stricter limits on sulphur and benzene in petrol and diesel, a phase-out of leaded petrol by 2000, more pollution diagnosis equipment in vehicles and the introduction of tax incentives in 2000 for fuels meeting 2005 standards. During the debate, MEPs queued up to strongly welcome the Parliament's input to the legislative package, which they said had "considerably improved" it.

Lack of waste management reporting deplored

The Parliament agreed a non-binding resolution strongly criticising EU member states for failure to report their progress on four waste management directives as required under EU law. Drafted by Spanish EPP MEP Luis Campoy Zueco, the resolution also calls for the EU's definition of waste to be stringently defined under a new EU regulation.

The resolution responds to a communication issued by the European Commission describing how member states have implemented the four waste directives between 1989 and 1994. Despite clear rules on reporting laid down in a 1991 directive, many EU member states have not fully complied, the communication showed. One country had not submitted a single report in 22 years, Mr Campoy Zueco noted in a statement accompanying the draft resolution.

The resolution also expresses regret that no EU member state has yet incorporated the 1994 European Waste Catalogue into its national legislation. The result, according to the Parliament, is that each country interprets definitions of waste differently, hence the need for waste definitions to be clearly defined in a regulation, which would have to be implemented in exactly the same way by all member states.

Other elements include a call for the Parliament to receive quarterly updates on member states currently facing actions in the European Court of Justice for defaulting on their obligations, and a notice that the Parliament's environment committee will in future call national ministers to explain in person any cases of "flagrant violation" of EU waste legislation.

References: Mr Campoy Zueco's report is available on the Parliament's web site. The code is A4-0235/98.

Stricter controls on noisy aircraft demanded

In a first reading on a European Commission proposal to restrict the use of more noisy aircraft in the EU from next year, the Parliament broadly endorsed the plan. Under the draft directive, existing rules that all so-called "chapter-2" aircraft should be phased out by 2002 would be strengthened to prevent large scale reregistration of these aircraft as quieter "chapter-3 aircraft after having "hushkits" fitted.

In the view of both the Commission and the Parliament, this would be undesirable because hushkitted chapter-2 aircraft are still generally louder than chapter-3 planes. In addition, they remain less fuel efficient and more polluting.

MEPs also reiterated a call for a ban on night flights to EU airports from April 1999 by all but the quietest planes in the quietest category (Chapter 3). EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard told MEPs during the debate that she would not accept this amendment.

References: A report by José Valverde López MEP is available on the Parliament's web site. The code is A4-0279/98.

Strategic environmental assessment debated

A European Commission proposal for a directive to supplement existing rules on environmental assessments of major projects by requiring "strategic environmental assessment" of policies and programmes was debated by MEPs. A planned vote was cancelled after an argument developed over the legal base of the proposal.

Even before the legal issue appeared, the Socialists and the centre-right EPP clashed over the content and aims of the directive. For the EPP, Caroline Jackson said she was "very unhappy" with the Commission's proposal because each EU state had its own approach to town and country planning. The Commission's proposal would be "intrusive," she said. "The answer, she said, was "surely" to make the EU's existing directive on environmental assessment of projects "universally applicable".

Socialist and Green MEPs responded that the directive deserved support and should in fact be extended from the proposed areas of transport, waste and water management, telecommunications, tourism and energy to include agriculture and forestry as well.

However, Ms Jackson reiterated the EPP's conviction that, as a measure concerned with town and country planning, the proposal should be subject to adoption by the Council of Ministers by unanimity rather than by qualified majority. The Parliament's acting presidency accepted a move for the issue to be referred to the institution's legal committee, despite an intervention by EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard to defend the existing legal base of article 130(s)2 of the EU treaty.

References: A report by Per Gahrton MEP is available on the European Parliament web site. The code is A4-0245/98.

Debate on water pollution dossiers postponed

MEPs were scheduled to give a first reading to the Commission's important proposal for a new framework directive on water policy, but the dossier was taken off the agenda by a timetabling committee just before the session began. A similar fate befell a report by Irish Green MEP Patricia McKenna's report on a review by the Commission of implementation of the 1991 directive on nitrate pollution from agriculture. Both reports have been rescheduled to be discussed in a plenary session beginning on 19 October, according to a Parliament official.

References: Both reports are available on the Parliament's web site. The code for Ian White's report on the draft water framework directive is A4-0261/98; The code for Patricia McKenna's report on nitrate pollution is A4-0284/98.

NGOs say Agenda 2000 will bring "catastrophe"

European conservation NGOs took advantage of MEPs presence in Strasbourg to warn of "ecological catastrophe" unless changes were made to the EU's Agenda 2000 reforms, on the common agricultural policy, structural funds and enlargement of the Union. At a reception held on Wednesday, Birdlife International and other European partner organisations told MEPs that as currently drafted, Agenda 2000 would cause huge environmental damage.

Under the current structural funds proposal, Ecu210bn would be spent on environmentally harmful projects such as dams and motorways, the groups said. Agricultural support would increase by 21% over six years while schemes to support jobs and protect wildlife would be "sidelined," they claimed. Third, the groups warned, central and eastern European countries negotiating to join the EU would be forced to "import" EU policies that would damage their rich wildlife.

Reiterating their main demands for amendments to the Agenda 2000 proposals, the groups called for structural fund spending to be assessed for its environmental impacts and for agricultural spending to be shifted away from production subsidies and towards environmental and community support schemes. The Parliament should "send a clear signal" to the other EU institutions "that people and wildlife deserve a better deal" from the structural funds and the CAP, the groups said.

Follow Up:
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the UK partner of Birdlife International, tel: +32 2 280 0830.

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