Member states weaken marine Directive

A proposed requirement for Europe’s seas to achieve certain environmental standards became a mere aspiration when EU environment ministers met on 18 December. The Environment Council also adopted the REACH Regulation and debated the waste framework Directive and legislation on pesticides.

The unanimous adoption of the REACH Regulation, on the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals, means it will come into force on 1 June (see pp 46-47  ).

Political agreement on the marine strategy enables this Directive to move to second reading later this year.

  • Marine strategy Directive: The proposal aims to achieve "good environmental status" of European seas by 2021. The European Parliament went further in its first reading vote in November, demanding the target be met by 2017.

    But in a major setback to efforts to protect the marine environment, the Council changed the requirement for member states to achieve good environmental status to an aspirational goal of "aiming to achieve" it. Measures designed to achieve this goal must be implemented by 2021.

    The UK dropped its opposition to a binding target and, with Sweden and Denmark, urged unsuccessfully for it to be retained.

    The Council also decided member states would not be required to take steps where "the costs would be disproportionate taking account of the risks to the marine environment."

    The timetable for developing marine strategies was left unchanged. Member states must assess the current environmental status of their own marine waters within four years of the Directive entering into force, and a year later must establish environmental targets and indicators. By 2016 member states would have to develop measures designed to achieve this status and the measures would have to be operational by 2018.

    In line with their recommendation at the previous Environment Council in October (ENDS Report 382, pp 49-50 ), ministers inserted a much-needed definition of good environmental status into the text. Ecosystems must be allowed to "function fully and maintain their resilience", marine species and habitats "are protected" and "human-induced decline of biodiversity" must be "prevented". Another requirement is that "anthropogenic inputs of substances and energy into the marine environment do not cause pollution effects".

  • Waste framework Directive: The Council had hoped to reach political agreement on the Directive but ended up only debating the issue because Parliament has yet to hold its first reading vote.

    Member states remained divided on proposals to classify municipal waste incineration as recovery or disposal depending on a plant’s energy efficiency. But Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the proposals were the only way to address the European Court of Justice’s ruling four years ago that municipal waste incinerators are disposal operations.

    A new article has been drafted setting out in detail the waste hierarchy and the role of life-cycle thinking as guiding principles or waste management. Ministers have already accepted a new five-step hierarchy placing recycling above incineration, but still disagree over how binding it should be and the extent to which life-cycle thinking should allow member states to deviate from it.

    Progress has been made in meeting demands for waste oil regeneration to remain a priority after the waste oils Directive is repealed. Another new article will address the issue of biowaste, but disagreement remains on the need for specific legislation.

  • Pesticides: The Council discussed the proposed Directive on sustainable pesticide use and the Regulation on pesticides approval (ENDS Report 378, p 48 ). Some member states wanted national action plans to include quantitative reduction targets for pesticide use but others argued that reductions should not be mandatory, especially in countries where use is already low.

    Some countries argued that the proposed ban on aerial spraying should be replaced by spraying limits.

    Most member states welcomed mutual recognition in principle. But they were dissatisfied with the way the Regulation proposes it should happen, whereby one of three regional groupings of member states would approve plant protection products. Most wanted greater consideration of national conditions.

  • GMOs: Ministers rejected a European Commission demand for Austria to lift bans on two genetically modified maize crops. The decision was the second time the Council had opposed the Commission’s attempts to lift the bans, but the first since the EU lost a World Trade Organization case on GMOs earlier this year. The UK was one of four countries to support the Commission.
  • Water quality: The Council also debated the proposed Directive on environmental quality standards for surface waters, issued last summer (ENDS Report 379, p 48 ). Many member states were concerned about requirements to monitor biota and sediments, warning they should be risk-based, realistic and proportionate. But the Commission said biota standards were only necessary for three highly bioaccumulative substances: hexachlorobenzene, hexachlorobutadiene and methyl-mercury. Work to develop specifications and standardised methods for monitoring is being carried out by a committee of member state technical experts.

    Sweden presented a paper calling for regulation of phosphates in order to prevent eutrophication. The EU detergents Regulation requires the Commission to assess the need for restrictions on the use of phosphates by April 2007.

  • Energy Star label: The Council adopted a Decision on the conclusion of the agreement between the US and the EU on the use of the Energy Star labelling scheme for office equipment. The agreement was published in December1 and will run for five years once it is implemented by an EU Regulation.
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