EU launches integrated product policy debate

Commission workshop discusses development of product-centred environmental strategies

The starting gun for an intensive EU debate on developing product-centred environmental policies was fired yesterday, at a workshop in Brussels organised by the European Commission.

Attended by government and EU officials, industry, environmental groups and other stakeholders, the meeting was intended as an opportunity for brainstorming on the concept of integrated product policy (IPP) and the roles it should play in EU and national environmental policies.

Further EU initiatives on IPP are already on the cards following the meeting. The European Commission announced that it would publish a green paper on IPP in the second half of next year and invited industry to propose IPP pilot projects. The German government confirmed its intention to focus an informal meeting of EU environment ministers on IPP next spring when it holds the EU presidency.

Commission officials were unable to state precisely what the Commission had in mind for IPP, which is more of an approach to environmental policy rather than a policy instrument in itself (see separate article). At the meeting, it was mooted that the Commission should map out existing policies and see how these could be used to promote greener production and consumption processes, and to identify gaps where new policies are needed.

Claude Rouam, an official at the Commission's environment directorate (DGXI), said that many of the policy instruments were already in place at national and EU levels, but would have a greater role to play under IPP. In particular, he cited product standardisation, green public procurement, eco-labelling and consumer information and producer liability. He added that some new instruments might also be introduced such as an EU eco-design policy.

Many delegates at the meeting expressed the view that an IPP approach would mean a growing role for flexible measures such as self-regulation and voluntary measures due to the complicated and cross-sectoral nature of products.

Industry reactions have been mixed. European employers' federation Unice warned at the meeting that IPP should not become a vehicle for extra regulation. The association called for it to be seen instead as a framework enabling regulatory authorities to set out broad objectives while industry took the "leading role" in improving products' environmental performance. This could lead to an increase in flexible instruments such as voluntary agreements and possibly to some deregulation, said Unice.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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