Organised by the German environment ministry, the conference brought together officials and experts from 22 countries to discuss current and future priorities in soil protection. The meeting marked "the first time the EU [has] taken a communal approach to soil," Grant Lawrence of the European Commission's environment directorate told ENDS Daily.
However, the prospect of focused EU policy actions appear still some way off. The European Commission is to prepare a series of discussion documents next year, but is not committed to legislation at this stage, according to Mr Lawrence. The first meeting of the forum, due in November 1999, will stimulate a "more concrete" policy debate, he added.
During the conference, country representatives suggested a wide variety of possible initiatives that the EU could take, including a soil framework directive. Other suggestions included revising existing directives on sewage sludge and integrated pollution prevention and control to take soil protection into account, and harmonising soil improvement products.
Countries queuing to join the EU were in favour of a framework directive. Many countries also proposed joint research on soil protection issues, in particular on terminology and data treatment. Some countries favoured no EU action at all, according to conference consultant Andreas Kraemer, who stressed that a main aim of the conference had been to move away from a focus on just contaminated sites or erosion to a more holistic approach to soil protection.
All participants agreed on the need to strengthen and update soil protection policies. According to the Commission, soil degradation is an issue of "growing concern," and existing policy instruments are suffering from insufficient implementation. Recent figures suggest there could be 300,000 contaminated land sites in France alone, which is equal to the total number firmly identified in western Europe. One-fifth of Europe's land area is contaminated by pesticides, and nearly the same proportion by nitrates and phosphates, the Commission estimates.
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