EU Council close to deal on VOCs

Ministers expected to agree directive to limit solvent emissions, small paint shops could be excluded

European Union environment ministers are likely to agree a far-reaching law to cut emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at this week's Environment Council, according to national officials preparing for the meeting. Although ministers are only due to hold a general debate, officials say that they could reach political agreement on the measure.

The draft directive on reducing VOC emissions from the use of solvents was published by the European Commission last November. It aims to halve VOC emissions from 400,000 companies in 24 manufacturing sectors from 1990 levels by 2010. This will help to reduce ozone pollution and summer smog episodes.

Despite its wide-ranging implications for industry and estimated cost of Ecu4 billion per year to implement, the measure has sped through the Council.

Recent negotiations have reduced the remaining problems to a level at which a political agreement could be reached on Friday, according to officials contacted by ENDS Daily. "The Dutch [Presidency] are pushing very hard on this dossier," said one. "They think it is very important and want to put the VOCs feather in their cap at the end of their Presidency."

The main disagreements to be overcome by ministers are the treatment of the pharmaceuticals and vehicle coating and finishing industries, and the latitude to be given to member states in implementing the directive.

The Commission proposal includes the pharmaceutical industry, but some countries - notably the UK and France - have argued against. Others feel that the proposal overlaps with existing controls under the directive on integrated pollution prevention and control.

According to a Dutch official, a compromise has been reached during preparatory meetings. The Presidency is now proposing a slightly different definition of the pharmaceutical industry and a new approach to setting emissions levels. Together, these are expected to reduce implementation costs.

The Dutch also appear to have brokered a deal over vehicle paint shops. Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium have argued for all paints shops to be covered, regardless of size. Others have demanded that smaller companies could not afford to meet the terms of the directive and should be excluded.

After negotiations, the Presidency is now proposing that paint shops using less than 500kg of solvents per year should be excluded from the terms of the directive. National officials contacted by ENDS Daily said that ministers would probably now accept the approach.

Another outstanding problem is whether countries should apply limit values to all installations or whether they should be allowed to draw up plans tailored to national circumstances. The Commission's proposal lets countries choose which means they prefer, but Sweden and Germany have argued for a stricter approach.

Follow Up:
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