Busy year ahead for EU environmental policy

Some three dozen environmental measures or initiatives with major environmental significance feature in the European Commission's work programme for 2003.1

The Commission's work programmes have not always proved the most reliable guides to what it actually comes forward with during the year, with some scheduled initiatives falling by the wayside, others appearing out of the blue, and some widely anticipated initiatives not making it onto the list. A notable omission from this year's programme, for instance, is any reference to its legislative plans for reforming the EU's chemicals policy.

That said, there seems likely to be little diminution in the flow of legislative and policy initiatives from Brussels this year - with no fewer than 21 on the environmental front due by March.

The programme comes in two parts: measures falling within the Commission's political priorities for 2003, and other initiatives "likely" to be brought forward during the year. Among the first group are:

  • In January, the Commission is due to propose a Recommendation introducing minimum criteria for inspections of nuclear facilities, following the existing measure for industrial installations.

  • Two draft Directives on vehicle emissions are due in March. One will govern the use of on-board diagnostic technology in cars and vans from 2005, while the second will complete the emission standards which will apply to motorcycles and mopeds from 2006.

  • In March, the Commission will propose a Directive on groundwater protection, as provided for in the 2000 water framework Directive.

  • A much-delayed proposal to revise the 1991 Directive on batteries and accumulators is due in March. It is likely to focus on risk reduction measures for nickel-cadmium batteries.

  • A Communication on the integration of environmental considerations into the standardisation process is due in March.

  • The delayed White Paper on integrated product policy is now promised for March.

  • Another initiative in March will be a Green Paper setting out the Commission's thinking on a thematic strategy on the sustainable use and management of resources, which is due to be finalised in 2005.

  • In April, the Commission will propose amendments to the 1992 Directive on transfrontier shipments of radioactive waste
    which will introduce "more comprehensive and simplified administrative arrangements to allow Member States and third countries to take appropriate measures in case of shipments of radioactive waste or substances."

  • A key legislative proposal promised for June will set out the conditions under which emission credits from projects carried out in third countries under the Kyoto Protocol's "flexible mechanisms" - Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism - will be eligible for use within the EU's greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme.

  • A long-awaited draft Regulation setting harmonised limits on the cadmium content of phosphate fertilisers is due in June.

  • Options for co-financing by the EU and Member States of the Natura 2000 network of key wildlife habitats will be presented in a Communication due in September.

  • September will also see a Communication on sustainable tourism.

  • A Communication setting out an action plan on environmental technologies is due in November.

  • A proposed EU action plan on organic farming will be issued in December.

  • A thematic strategy on the urban environment is due in December. Initial priorities will include sustainable transportation and sustainable design and construction.

    Initiatives "likely" to come forward during 2003 include:

  • In February, the Commission will propose a Directive on public access to justice in environmental matters, as part of the EU's implementation of the pan-European Aarhus Convention. An accompanying Regulation will propose the application of the Convention's requirements to the EU institutions.

  • In March, the Commission will propose amendments to the existing Regulation on ozone-depleting substances to provide for controls on fluorinated chemicals which are greenhouse gases. The amendments will aim to "improve containment and monitoring" and introduce "certain use restrictions". An accompanying progress report on the European Climate Change Programme "will provide a basis for possible further EU measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

  • Two draft Directives on vehicle taxation due in March will propose harmonised taxes for larger passenger vehicles and goods vehicles, and common rules for user charges on motorways and major roads.

  • A draft Directive proposing a harmonised framework for addressing the environmental aspects of electrical and electronic equipment
    is also due in March.

  • Two draft Directives, due in March, will propose a ban on "very toxic" pesticides in baby foods. A third will revise the EU's existing rules on pesticide residues in food.

  • A Communication on future technologies for clean vehicles is due for publication in March.

  • Another Communication scheduled for March will provide a progress report on the implementation of the 1996 Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control, as well as its "link to other policy instruments and possible future developments."

  • A third Communication due in March will address environmental targets for transport.

  • Yet another Communication scheduled for March will launch a debate on eco-labelling of fisheries products as a means of promoting more sustainable fishing.

  • A draft Recommendation due in June will lay down harmonised sampling and analysis requirements for radioactive releases from nuclear reactors and reprocessing plants.

  • A draft Directive due in June will put forward a "methodology for charging for the use of transport infrastructure so as to reflect external costs more fully and encourage a shift towards more sustainable modes of transport."

  • A Directive to implement the long-awaited overhaul of the 1991 Directive on authorisation of plant protection products is scheduled for June. A second Directive will introduce harmonised decision-making criteria for authorisation of microbial pesticides.

  • In September, the Commission will put forward two draft Directives to promote public purchasing of clean vehicles and energy-efficient goods and services. They will propose a duty on public authorities to ensure that evaluation of tenders takes into account the economically and environmentally most advantageous offers rather than the lowest price.

  • A draft Directive on airport charges due in December will propose the inclusion of unspecified external costs in charges.

  • Also in December, the Commission will propose a Directive to introduce EU rules on illegal discharges of oil and hazardous substances from ships.

  • Another proposal due in December will restrict the marketing and use of household mercury thermometers. The measure will aim at protecting the aquatic environment under the water framework Directive.

    This year will also see the Commission phasing in a new "extended impact assessment" process for legislation and major policy initiatives. Announced last summer, the tool has been portrayed as an important means of giving effect to the EU's sustainable development strategy (ENDS Report 329, pp 48-49 ).

    Environmental measures which will pass through the process this year include the proposals on groundwater protection, the Kyoto Protocol's flexible mechanisms, batteries, cadmium in fertilisers and vehicle emissions. Several important transport and agriculture measures will also be subject to extended assessment.

    1 COM(2002) 590, The Commission's legislative and work programme for 2003.

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