MEPs bid to extend strategic assessment law

Draft SEA directive gets first reading, VOCs proposal passed a second time, biodiversity debated

The European Parliament has given a first reading to a draft directive to require environmental assessment of infrastructure plans and programmes during this week's plenary session in Strasbourg. The assembly also passed a resolution on biodiversity and gave a second reading to a draft law to cut emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from solvent use.

Voting on the "strategic environmental assessment" (SEA) directive had been scheduled for last month, but was postponed when a row developed over the legal base of the proposal (ENDS Daily 18 September).

After consideration of the issue by the Parliament's legal committee, MEPs voted on the dossier this week without calling for a change of legal base from the Commission's proposal. This will make it possible for the Council of Ministers to pass the directive by a qualified majority vote rather than requiring unanimity.

Amendments passed by the assembly include a bid to extend the directive's scope to cover plans and programmes in agriculture, forestry and fishing as well as transport, energy, waste, water, telecommunications and tourism as envisaged by the Commission. MEPs also voted for an increase in public participation rights.

Environmental NGOs have been campaigning for the EU to pass the SEA directive, which they see as a key way to integrate environmental considerations into a large area of economic activity.

Among other environmental dossiers debated in Strasbourg this week, MEPs passed a non-binding resolution suggesting ways the European Commission could beef up the biodiversity strategy it published earlier this year (ENDS Daily 4 February).

MEPs welcomed the strategy and called on the Commission to present an overview of EU measures taken to protect biodiversity as well as a proposal for what it calls a "periodical inventory of biological diversity," which could be produced by an agency like the European Environment Agency or Eurostat.

The Parliament asked for specific action plans on transport and energy sectors to be prepared. The Commission is opposed to this, claiming that these areas are already addressed through other policies governing acidification and climate change. MEPs also criticised the strategy for "ignoring" the potential effects of unlimited growth in transport and tourism.

The resolution calls for the EU to cease providing agricultural, cohesion or regional development funding for projects that have a "directly negative impact" on biodiversity. Aid to countries in eastern Europe should be strictly linked to the countries' performance on protecting biodiversity, it adds.

In a separate vote, the Parliament passed final amendments to the EU's draft directive limiting emissions of VOCs from industrial solvent use. One of the most important of these would extend the directive's scope to cover the domestic use of solvents such as paints.

However, the Parliament has only consultative powers on this dossier and trade Commissioner Martin Bangemann said that the Commission would accept few of its demands. He told MEPs that many of the amendments proposed by Parliament during its first reading had already been incorporated into the latest draft.

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