Germany outlines EU presidency priorities

Trittin emphasises energy taxes, water law, waste incineration, involving citizens

A first official picture has emerged of Germany's environmental priorities for its six-month term as EU presidency, which begins in January. German environment minister Jürgen Trittin outlined his country's main aims yesterday following a meeting with EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard.

As expected following their victory at the polls, the programme put forward by the Social Democrat/Greens coalition includes a political emphasis on harmonisation of energy taxes that was not present in early planning before the September election (ENDS Daily 11 September).

Following its decision to finance lower taxes on employment through higher energy taxes, the government wants to promote a similar approach at EU level. Both Mr Trittin and Ms Bjerregaard agreed at their meeting that energy taxes could also play a useful role in achieving climate change policy objectives. Germany is also to push for the EU to end an international exemption of taxes on aviation fuel, seeing movement towards the same goal by the International Civil Aviation Organisation as too slow.

Transparency and involvement of citizens in governmental and corporate decision making is to be another political priority of the presidency, according to the German environment ministry. The presidency is to promote discussion of how to intensify citizens' participation during its term. Mr Trittin is also promising to end Germany's embarrassing position as the only EU state not to have signed the Århus convention on public participation in environmental decision-making.

The presidency will also take over the EU's efforts to integrate environmental considerations into other policy areas, giving a further push to a process formally launched at the Cardiff heads of government summit in June. Germany is to particularly focus on integration in fisheries, according to the statement. Furthermore, the presidency pledges to take up integrated product policy-making as a new theme of EU discussions following a Commission workshop on the subject to be held next week.

Highlights of Germany's programme for the EU Environment Council will include the following dossiers, according to the statement:

* Water framework directive. The Commission's proposal for a first general EU framework law on water resources and protection is currently in danger of suffering considerable delay due to a stand-off between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The German presidency will attempt to bridge the political divide before Parliamentary elections in June.

* Strategic environmental assessment directive. Put forward in 1996 and ignored by successive EU presidencies since, Germany says it will consider taking up this directive, which is intended to extend EU law on environmental impact assessment of large projects to include land-use plans and programmes.

* Environmental liability white paper. Germany is to initiate discussions on this controversial pre-legislative paper, which the Commission has yet to release.

* EMAS revision. The presidency will begin ministerial discussions on the Commission's proposal to strengthen the EU's corporate environmental management standard, which was officially released last month.

* Waste incineration. Commission proposals for tighter emissions limits on waste incineration plants will be prioritised for discussion by ministers, the statement says.

Other issues to be discussed under the German presidency include:

* The large combustion plants directive (amendment of the existing directive).

* Heavy goods vehicle emissions standards (completion of the last outstanding "Auto/Oil I" directive.

* EU ecolabel programme (amendment of the existing regulation).

* Car fuel efficiency labelling (new directive proposed by the Commission in September).

* Nuclear safety and EU enlargement. The presidency stressed the importance of achievement of good levels of nuclear safety by central and eastern European countries queuing to join the EU.

* The international agenda. Germany will represent the EU in several international negotiations, including meetings of parties to the UN biodiversity convention, the seventh meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, further negotiations on a UN protocol on persistent organic pollutants, and preparations for the next meeting of parties to the UN climate change convention.

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

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