EU leaders give strong push to integration

Summit calls for timetables, indicators, on environmental policy integration

EU heads of state have given an unexpectedly strong push to the process of integrating environmental objectives into sectoral policies at their half-yearly meeting in Vienna, which closed on Saturday. The European Commission's environment directorate (DGXI) was today celebrating what sources described as a "fantastic" outcome. "I could not have written a better set of conclusions myself," one source told ENDS Daily.

In their summit statement, EU leaders stress that existing efforts on policy integration must be further extended. The process was initiated by the Luxembourg summit in December 1997 and progress reports were requested from transport, energy and agriculture ministers by the Cardiff summit in June (ENDS Daily 17 June). Last month, EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard dismissed these reports, saying they contained "a few nice words about the environment, but it's not what we are looking for" (ENDS Daily 27 November).

In the Vienna statement, the leaders describe the reports as "initial" and call on sectoral ministerial groupings to come up with "comprehensive strategies...including a timetable for further measures and a set of indicators" by next December.

They also call on three more councils - internal market, industry and development - to embark on the process of integration, but without setting deadlines for producing reports. In spite of a pledge by the pending German presidency, there are no calls to finance or fisheries ministers to do the same (ENDS Daily 4 December).

Overall progress towards integration is to be reviewed in Helsinki next December, at which time EU leaders are also due to adopt a "millennium declaration" outlining general policy priorities for the future. Commission reports on environmental indicators and progress under the EU's fifth environmental action programme are also to be reviewed.

European Commission officials have welcomed EU leaders' reinforcement of the need to integrate environmental objectives into the union's agricultural and structural policies as they are reformed. The summit also prioritised the EU's work on climate change, calling on the Commission to produce a "comprehensive EU strategy" by the time that heads of government meet at the Cologne summit in June next year.

From DGXI's perspective, the Vienna summit has given a strengthened political impetus behind moves to get all Commission directorates and all ministerial groupings to take the process of integration more seriously. It will also push the Commission to begin conducting environmental appraisals of all its major policy proposals as it was asked to do by EU leaders in the summer, one source told ENDS Daily. The communiqué requests the Commission to report on progress on this and other aspects of "mainstreaming environmental policy" by the Cologne summit.

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

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