EU leaders urged forward on sustainability

Sweden seeking heads-of-state request for practical sustainable development policies

Swedish prime minister Göran Persson will tomorrow urge fellow EU heads of state to support immediate drafting of practical policies on sustainable development when they meet at the Luxembourg summit, ENDS Daily has learned.

Sweden is asking EU leaders to adopt a statement calling on the European Commission to prepare a "strategic document," designed to show "how to integrate sustainable development into all policy areas of the Union". Mr Persson will suggest that the following European Council meeting, to be held in Cardiff next June, should review progress, and that heads of state should formally approve a plan of action in Vienna in December 1998.

Developed quietly over the past few months, the Swedish plan has been floated among EU institutions and member states and has received "good support," according to a senior Swedish environment ministry official. The issue was also discussed when Luxembourg's prime minister Claude Juncker visited Stockholm earlier this week during a pre-summit tour of European capitals.

However, it remains uncertain whether the Swedish-inspired statement will appear on the formal agenda tomorrow, which will be dominated by the issues of EU enlargement and economic and monetary union. Support for the initiative is "around 50:50," according to an EU official, though Luxembourg's environment minister Johny Lahure is reported to have recommended inclusion to Mr Juncker.

Sweden's initiative is designed to move the EU rapidly forwards from this summer's Amsterdam treaty, which for the first time included sustainable development as a core objective of the Union (ENDS Daily 20 June). As it takes increasingly ambitious steps domestically to turn sustainability from concept into practice, Sweden now wants to see progress at EU level.

Though the Amsterdam treaty is unlikely to enter into force until 1999, Sweden wants to take advantage of next year's UK presidency term of the EU. The UK has publicly pledged to make environment a core theme of its presidency (ENDS Daily 3 November). According to an EU source, the UK is receptive to the Swedish initiative, as is Austria, whose presidency term follows that of the UK.

The details of what the Commission might be asked to deliver by December 1998 remain unclear, but the Swedish government is pushing for two elements, according to a draft briefing paper prepared by the environment ministry.

One is "mechanisms to integrate the objective of sustainable development into all EU policies," such as making all EU ministerial Councils responsible for taking it forward, and not just the Environment Council. The second is clearer identification of targets for and indicators of sustainable development, including an assessment of obstacles to change.

A specialist in EU environmental policies, Nigel Haigh of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, this evening welcomed Sweden's initiative. "To have sustainability raised at the level of heads of state will give a push to the new-found [Amsterdam treaty] commitment, and is not just words in a treaty," he told ENDS Daily.

Follow Up:
Swedish environment ministry, tel: +46 8 405 1000.

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