German government tries again on packaging

Cabinet approves new ordinance proposal, tries to reconcile domestic, international pressures

The German government is making a second attempt to revise the country's law on packaging. A new text agreed by the cabinet on Wednesday could get an easier ride from the upper house of parliament, which killed off the last draft in late April. But potential opposition from member states and the European Commission remains a formidable obstacle to the measure's smooth passage.

"The new draft of this decree...should come close to the wish of the L nder" (the states), said environment minister Angela Merkel on Wednesday. The government hopes that the changes it has made will enable it to reverse the small majority by which the Bundesrat - which is composed of L nder representatives - voted down the last version.

In fact, the new text contains few changes from the government's original proposal, made in November 1996. "The new version is very close to the one that was [rejected by] the Bundesrat," Hans-Jurgen Schmidt of the Federation of German Industry told ENDS Daily.

The intractable problem facing the government is that it is being pulled simultaneously in opposing directions. Sentiment in the Bundesrat and in large sections of the German public is that rules on the disposal and recycling of packaging need to be at least maintained and preferably strengthened.

On the other hand, the European Commission and several member states have said that key elements must be further relaxed to bring the measure into line with the 1994 EU directive on packaging and packaging waste. In March, the Commission and at least five member states formally objected that the first proposed revision constituted a barrier to trade (ENDS Daily 14 March).

Their opposition focused on a provision to impose mandatory deposits on beverage containers in order to maintain the market share of refillable containers at a minimum of 72%. Both the first proposed revision and the new one carry this provision over from the original 1991 decree.

"The government is trying to go a small step towards Brussels and another small step towards the Bundesrat," says Mr Schmidt. It remains highly uncertain whether the compromise will buy off either side.

Follow Up:
German environment ministry , tel: +49 228 3050; Federation of German Industry, tel: +49 221 370 800.

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