DGXI head stresses fiscal policy tools

New Commission environment chief outlines priorities in first public speech

The new director general of the European Commission's environment directorate (DGXI) today stressed his belief in integration of environmental objectives with other EU policies and in increasing the use of economic instruments. Speaking at a conference hosted by environmental NGOs in Brussels, Jim Currie also emphasised the importance of forming partnerships with other actors.

Mr Currie moved from the tax directorate to take over the reins of DGXI at the beginning of November, becoming the Commission's top environmental bureaucrat and reporting directly to Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard. A pugnacious Scot, his experience in the EU policy-making machinery is seen by Brussels insiders as an potential strong point for environmental policy making (ENDS Daily 6 October).

Speaking publicly today for the first time since his appointment, Mr Currie gave an indication of his approach to several key EU environmental policy issues.

DGXI would not abandon efforts to propose more directives, which had proved "beneficial," Mr Currie said, but he stressed a need to "find new ways to put pressure on member states to deliver". "That means using fiscal and economic instruments," he said, and revealed that he asked officials to prepare a report on the recent use of such instruments and their relative success.

Promoting environmental taxation at EU level "is not going to be easy," Mr Currie admitted, alluding to the well known opposition of some EU member states to coordination of tax policies. But he indicated his intention to promote the issue. "We've really got to pursue the whole theme of taxation in order to push the agenda in the right direction," he said.

Partnerships would also play an important part in his approach, Mr Currie said. "I want to look at how to build stronger links between DGXI, the wider Commission and NGOs," he continued.

Mr Currie also touched on several key policy issues of the moment. The Commission would be doing a lot more on environment and employment issues he said, describing the communication published yesterday (ENDS Daily 19 October) as "only the beginning".

Further efforts would be made to bring together transport and environment policy making, he said, in particular by capitalising on the forthcoming UK presidency's intention to hold two joint environment/transport council meetings next year.

On the Commission's Agenda 2000 proposals for EU enlargement and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, Mr Currie revealed that DGXI is planning to make its own statement on environmental aspects of the plans. "The aim for us in DGXI is to build a very precise strategy for [accession] countries," he said.

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European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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