Published in March, the draft directive on the sulphur content of liquid fuels forms a central plank of a European Commission strategy to halve the area affected by acidification by 2010 (ENDS Daily 13 March). The proposal covers mainly heavy fuel oils, burned in power stations, refineries and industry. These fuels contribute 30% of the EU's emissions of sulphur dioxide.
There are currently no EU limits on the sulphur content of heavy fuel oils. Some countries have average figures of 1% sulphur content or less, while others have sulphur concentrations as high as 3.5%. The Commission has proposed setting a 1% limit by 2000 for the whole of the EU.
ENDS Daily understands that some countries called for a stricter sulphur limit at last week's meeting, notably Sweden and Denmark, which suggested a limit of 0.8%. The surprise at the meeting was that other countries - especially the UK and Spain - did not immediately oppose a 1% limit.
Both the UK and Spain use fuel oils with a relatively high average sulphur content. Their costs to implement the proposal have been estimated at Ecu217 million and Ecu178 million respectively. In the event, only the Italian delegation pronounced itself hostile to the proposal.
ENDS Daily understands that southern EU countries will only accept a 1% limit if they win exemptions. At the meeting, officials looked at possible derogations from the requirements of the proposal.
One exemption could be for regions "where sulphur dioxide air quality standards are respected and where emissions do not contribute significantly to acidification". National officials said that future discussions are likely to focus on defining these exemptions and deciding who is eligible for them.
More generally, Member states considered extending the implementation date of the directive. The UK and Irish delegations both said that 2000 was too early to meet the proposed limits. A national official told ENDS Daily that postponing the date "could make it easier for some countries to accept the proposal".
Despite the apparent agreement on the measure, one national official warned that serious problems could still arise. This was a preliminary meeting, she stressed. "It is only when you get down to the nitty-gritty that problems arise."
Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.
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