EU Environment Council round-up

Genetically modified organisms, employment, end-of-life vehicles directive on the agenda

EU environment ministers' quarterly meeting in Luxembourg ended late yesterday evening, having been dominated by discussions on climate change and reducing carbon dioxide emissions from cars, both of which we reported on in yesterday's issue of ENDS Daily.

Ministers also held limited discussions on a number of other legislative dossiers currently on the table. For the most part, the aim was to take stock of progress, with the Austrian EU presidency now looking to achieve final agreements on several dossiers at the last Environment Council during its term, which will be held in December.

Genetically modified organisms:

In Council conclusions issued after the meeting, the Austrian presidency reiterated that getting ministerial agreement on how to revise the EU's 1990 directive on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms was one of its top priorities. The presidency acknowledged that many countries had reservations over proposed simplified procedures for granting permissions to release or market new GMO varieties, but said it would "spare no effort in order to reach an agreement".

According to a source at the talks, the UK argued during the meeting for a precautionary approach to be adopted in the revised directive. UK environment minister Michael Meacher said more weight should be given to ethical considerations of new GMOs, that there should be a thorough analysis of the risks and the benefits of the new organisms, and that the EU should look at the possibility of ensuring segregation of GM and similar non-GM products.

France also indicated its reservations about GMOs, and reminded other countries of its recent decision to institute moratorium on modified varieties of oilseed rape, which it fears could spread inserted genes to wild relatives.

Employment and environment:

Ministers passed a resolution on employment and the environment, which stresses the need for the EU to "strengthen the link between a high level of employment on one hand and a high level of environmental protection" on the other. Both of these are "basic conditions for the sustainable development of economies," the ministers agreed. More tangibly, the resolution states that the EU will give priority in its funding of sustainable development projects to those which will also increase employment.

Greece, which earlier in the meeting succeeded in getting a reference to harmonised EU fuel excise duties deleted from a statement on reducing carbon dioxide from cars (ENDS Daily 6 October), insisted on a similar change in the employment resolution. The final version makes no reference to the proposal on introducing a minimum EU-wide level of tax on energy products currently under consideration by EU finance ministers (ENDS Daily 25 September), but instead confirms "the necessity of making taxation systems more employment friendly".

End-of-life vehicles directive:

Portugal and Italy said they considered the European Commission's proposed targets to recycle 80% of scrap cars by 2005 and 85% by 2015 were over-ambitious. France commented that it wanted incineration with energy recovery to be included under the definition of recycling and said that a voluntary agreement with industry could be a useful way of implementing the directive. Italy, France and Belgium also said that existing national voluntary agreements should not be undermined by the law.

Ozone layer protection:

The meeting revealed a North/South split over part of a Commission proposal to reduce emissions of ozone depleting substances (ENDS Daily 1 July) that would require the use of methyl bromide to be phased out. Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and France said they were against the move to ban the substance used as a pesticide on produce such as tomatoes and strawberries.

HGVs, EU enlargement and recycling:

Minister also discussed a Commission proposal to set new exhaust emissions limits for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and how to make sure central and eastern European countries queuing to join the Union comply with EU environmental laws. The Commission presented a communication published in July on how to promote the competitiveness of the EU recycling industry.

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

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