Austria sets agenda for EU ministerial

Talks to focus on climate change, car emissions, end-of-life vehicles, GMO releases

Austria will chair a formal meeting of EU environment ministers on Tuesday for the first time since it joined the Union in 1995. In addition to climate change (see separate article), the main items on a sparse agenda will be car CO2 emissions, end-of-life vehicles management, and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

CO2 emissions from cars:

Ministers are confidently expected to give formal approval for the voluntary deal struck between the European car makers' association Acea and the European Commission to reduce the average carbon dioxide emissions from new cars to 140 grams per kilometre by 2008 (ENDS Daily 2 June). The ministers are likely to stress that the EU will legislate if Acea fails to honour the agreement and that the deal does not compromise the EU member states' right to use fiscal measures to promote reduced emissions from cars. They will also ask the Commission to work for a similar undertaking from car makers from outside of Europe which are not members of Acea, and call for a progress report at their next quarterly meeting in December. A majority of countries want to include in the statement a commitment to take forward work on the Commission's proposal for an energy tax directive (ENDS Daily 25 September), although Greece opposes any mention of this.

Ministers will hold a televised debate on two legislative proposals which, along with the Acea deal, are part of the EU strategy to achieve average emissions of 120 grams per kilometre by 2010. These cover monitoring emissions and labelling new cars with their fuel efficiency (ENDS Daily 4 September).

End-of-life vehicles directive:

Austria hopes to achieve agreement on new rules governing the management of scrap cars by the end of this year (ENDS Daily 9 July 1997). The presidency has formulated a list of questions for ministers to discuss next week, including who should pay for the cost of disposing of an old car, how much responsibility should be given to manufacturers, and whether member states be able to implement parts of the directive via voluntary agreements. Ministers will not look at the thorny question of whether or not heavy metals such as lead should be banned from use in car manufacture - an issue still under hot debate among working groups of national representatives.

GMOs:

Like with the end of life vehicles directive, Austria wants to reach a political agreement between member states on the deliberate release of GMOs directive before the end of its presidency. It will present a progress report which shows there is still disagreement on most of the key issues.

Environment and employment:

Ministers are expected to sign an up-beat resolution stating that environmental policies often have a positive impact on employment and that the concept of sustainable development should be further integrated into the EU's employment agenda. According to an Austria official, the resolution represents the next step in the process of integrating the environment into other policy areas - a concept stressed by heads of state in Cardiff earlier this year (ENDS Daily 27 April). Ministers may also call on the Commission to develop the idea of "benchmarking" - comparing the performance of member states - in this area, but Spain is against the inclusion of this clause.

Others:

Ministers will review the progress on two other dossiers: the proposed directive limiting pollution from the exhausts of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) from 2000, and the proposal to phase out methyl bromide and hydrochlorofluorocarbons which damage the ozone layer (ENDS Daily 1 July).

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

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