EU pledges greener stance on world stage

Foreign ministers agree routes towards integration of environment into external policies

The EU should be more environmentally ambitious in its dealings with third countries, the bloc's foreign ministers agreed yesterday. The EU's General Affairs Council pledged to integrate environmental considerations into external affairs policies and called on the European Commission to propose an "elaborated strategy" before the end of the year.

The statement is one of nine being prepared by different ministerial groupings under the EU's Cardiff environmental integration process. It will further cement Europe's image as a global environmental leader following the already significant boost provided by the USA's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto climate protocol.

Indeed, the report specifically states that the EU "should continue to be a leading force" in global negotiations on climate and other environmental issues, and reaffirms its aim of entry into force for Kyoto by 2002. Environmental issues should be included as "a clear priority and permanent feature" in the EU transatlantic relationship with the USA, it adds.

Foreign ministers have arrived late to the Cardiff process, some other councils having started work over two years ago (ENDS Daily 27 November 1998). Perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, the General Affairs Council's report contains no specific targets or indicators, though it does commit to adopting them later on, based on recommendations from the European Commission.

The report sees wide scope for integrating environmental issues into different aspects of the EU's external relations. Aside from the transatlantic relationship, it stresses the importance of environmental issues in the bloc's eastwards enlargement. Two other highlights are calls for stronger global cooperation on environmental issues through an enhanced UN system, and a greater balance between liberalised trade rules and multilateral environmental agreements.

One mechanism for greening foreign policy making, the report says, will be to carry out sustainability impact assessments on trade agreements between the EU and other countries or regions, a policy recently urged by UN environment programme (ENDS Daily 26 March). Ministers call on interested parties to make their own assessment of an existing agreement to help build knowledge on setting common standards and building environment into trade talks.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111, and the General Affairs Council report. See also European Commission {Cardiff process overview}

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