Seven strategies to form backbone of EU environment programme

The European Commission's work programme for 2005 was published at the end of January amidst continuing conflict over whether environmental protection is being downgraded in importance. Seven "thematic strategies" due this year will provide probably the most crucial tests of where environmental policy stands in the new Commission.

Business groups and some Member States, including the UK, have been demanding with increasing vigour that EU policy should focus more on competitiveness and deregulation. The theme has been taken up by several of the new Commissioners since the autumn, to the growing consternation of environmental organisations.

Explicitly playing down the importance of environmental protection would scarcely be a wise move, and the Commission opted for a muddying of the waters when it unveiled its 2005 work programme and strategic objectives for 2005-09 on 26 January.

The three strategic themes are prosperity, solidarity and security, but, according to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, prosperity is the "clear number one priority". Prosperity, he told the European Parliament, "requires economic growth, it requires competitiveness, it requires productivity. These are the conditions to nurture sustainable development."

That appeared to place sustainable development in a subordinate position. But in the next breath Mr Barroso said: "The constitution lays down sustainable development as the framework for all our policies. This must underlie all our work."

The European Environmental Bureau, the lead umbrella body of environmental groups in the EU, remains concerned. Its secretary general, John Hontelez, warned the Commission that "it is making a big mistake to marginalise the environmental agenda in this way...Politicians should stop looking at environmental policies as something you can do once you have achieved 3% annual GDP growth."

Planned environmental initiatives are certainly scarcer in the 2005 work programme than a few years ago - though not as thin on the ground as in last year's slimline programme (ENDS Report 346, p 53 ).

Moreover, some of last year's commitments were not delivered - foremost among them three thematic strategies on air pollution, pesticides, and waste prevention and recycling.

Thematic strategies were the chosen method for addressing several of the key policy priorities identified in the EU's sixth Environment Action Programme.

Seven are due in all - and all are now due for publication this year. They are a wholly untested instrument, and the balance they strike - between mandatory and voluntary action, and between business costs and environmental benefits - as well as their likely effectiveness in integrating action across sectors will be among the main talking-points for EU environmental policy this year.

The work programme has two main components - a list of priorities to which the Commission is firmly committed, and a second list of initiatives on which action is less certain.

The seven thematic strategies dominate the list of firm priorities:

  • A thematic strategy on air pollution, proposing long-term air quality objectives to protect human health and the environment, is due in May. The strategy is also expected to propose a "recasting/merging" of the 1996 framework Directive on air quality management and its first three "daughter" Directives.

    In a paper published with the work programme, the Commission says that "initial indications would point to measures on small scale combustion plant (including domestic heating, commercial installations and district heating), road vehicle emissions limits, measures to abate agricultural emissions of ammonia and probably new measures to reduce the growing contribution of ship-based emissions." Some of these measures, if pursued, would take EU policy into new areas.

  • A thematic strategy on sustainable use of natural resources is due in June. A consultation on the strategy was held as recently as December (ENDS Report 359, p 58 ).

  • Completing a busy month, a thematic strategic on waste prevention and recycling, accompanied by a legislative proposal to amend and simplify the waste framework Directive, is also expected in June.

    A wide variety of possible measures was mooted in a consultation two years ago (ENDS Report 341, pp 53-54 ). According to the Commission, late work is still under way examining the impacts and benefits of recycling products and/or materials, and on extending the Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control to more waste management operations.

  • A thematic strategy on the marine environment, possibly accompanied by a framework Directive, is due in July.

    In a paper published alongside the work programme, the Commission reveals that it is working on a two-stage approach: establishing a common vision and strategic goals applicable to all seas, and then introducing a regional dimension under which objectives, targets, deadlines and programmes of measures would be defined by Member States.

    The big issue is whether this should be pursued by voluntary means, or whether a framework Directive spelling out Member States' basic obligations in developing regional seas programmes is needed.

  • In July, the Commission is planning a Communication setting out options for economic instruments to reduce the climate change impacts of aviation.

    Options under consideration include aviation fuel taxes, emission charges and bringing aviation within the EU emissions trading scheme - though the Commission says that it will "likely suggest a combination of measures." In view of the urgency of action, special attention will be paid to ease of implementation, "specifically as concerns lead time necessary to achieve results."

  • In September, the Commission will propose a Regulation setting "Euro V" emission limits for light duty vehicles from around 2010, as well as technical standards for hybrid vehicles and regenerating filters.

  • A thematic strategy on sustainable use of pesticides, probably accompanied by a proposal for a framework Directive, is scheduled for September. A consultation on the strategy was held three years ago (ENDS Report 330, pp 54-55 ).

  • A thematic strategy on soil protection is expected in November. The Commission appears to have shifted its thinking since it consulted on the strategy in 2002, when it mooted a legislative proposal on soil monitoring, but little else of a concrete nature (ENDS Report 327, p 51 ).

    Now, the Commission is thinking in terms of a framework Directive as well. The strategy and legislation "would not just draw together existing actions for soil protection in environmental and agricultural legislation, but take an action-based approach, setting out targets to be achieved over a reasonable period.

    "For example, a common definition of contaminated sites, the establishment of inventories of sites and national plans for remediation could be envisaged for contamination."

  • Also due in November is a Communication providing a "road map" of priority objectives to achieving existing EU and international objectives to halt and significantly reduce, respectively, the decline of biodiversity of 2010.

  • A thematic strategy on the urban environment,
    currently scheduled for December, will be the last of the seven. The main options still being considered are a voluntary approach and a strategy with some mandatory elements - such as urban environment management plans and sustainable transport plans.

    Measures included in the work programme but without a precise publication date are:

  • A draft Directive to restructure annual and registration car taxes so as to make the tax system "more CO2 efficient", following a consultation in 2002.

  • A Green Paper on a European energy efficiency initiative is expected some time in the second quarter.

    The paper will identify the barriers to realising the 20% cost-effective energy savings potential which exists in the European economy, and outline policy options for overcoming them over the next five years. The paper "will cover the areas of heat, electricity and transport and all the end-use sectors."

  • A Communication is planned on ways of increasing the contribution of the biomass sector to the existing target to boost renewable energy's contribution to 12% of the total by 2010 and to future objectives for 2020.

    The paper is expected in the final quarter of the year. It will, the Commission says, provide a road map with quantified targets in both biomass production and use.

  • Also in the fourth quarter, a Communication is due on renewable energy - focusing on financing.

  • In the pesticides field, a draft Directive will propose "adaptation to technical progress and reorganisation of regulatory provisions" under the 1991 Directive on plant protection products. This will be another contribution to "regulatory simplification".

    The Commission has also published a further list of legislative proposals and other actions which have a lesser political priority. In the past, this has been badged as an "indicative" list of measures which the Commission "could envisage adopting" during the year - though there is no such description this year.

    The main environment-related measures on the list are:

  • A major "daughter" Directive under the 2000 water framework Directive is expected in March. It will propose environmental quality standards, discharge limits and monitoring and reporting rules for the latter Directive's 33 priority substances and "certain other chemical substances", as well as minor amendments of the 1996 Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control.

    The Commission is also promising an accompanying Communication which "addresses the role of existing Community instruments and outlines certain follow-up actions in order to achieve the environmental objectives of the water framework Directive as regards chemical pollution of surface waters by priority substances."

  • Left over from 2003, a draft Directive on public procurement of road vehicles is due in March. The measure will introduce requirements for public bodies to take account of vehicle emissions and energy consumption in their purchasing decisions.

  • A Communication on environmental taxes
    due in March will update the Commission's 1997 paper on the subject, widening its scope to include tradable permits. More importantly, it will also "explore the opportunities for measures to further promote the use of market-based instruments at EU level."

  • In April, detailed rules for monitoring compliance with the reuse, recovery and recycling targets specified by the Directive on end-of-life vehicles will be laid down in a Commission Decision.

  • A long-awaited and controversial draft Regulation to "re-harmonise" EU rules on the cadmium content of phosphate fertilisers is due in June. The Commission consulted on the issue in 2003 (ENDS Report 343, p 49 ), although plans to tackle it date back at least as far as 1987.

  • Another draft Regulation due in June will continue the long-term project to reform EU marine pollution and safety rules and responsibilities, focused on a reform of the classification societies which play a central role in determining the seaworthiness of vessels.

    The timing of other measures in the package is unclear, but they may include a strengthening of existing liability provisions for marine pollution, an extension of the competence of the new European Maritime Safety Agency, and provisions on post-accident inquiries.

  • The Commission is preparing a Communication for publication in June on possible synergies between environmental, employment and social policies and identifying areas "where strengthened policy coherence can bring benefits."

  • An overdue Communication due in June will "launch the debate on eco-labelling of fisheries products" as a contribution towards more sustainable fisheries.

  • Slated for October is a draft Directive to "streamline" the currently separate measures governing the transport of dangerous goods
    by road and rail. Basic obligations on shipment of radioactive materials will also be laid down.

  • November may bring a new entrant to EU environmental policy - a draft Directive "to ensure that...the negative consequences of floods will be reduced and that Member States co-operate within shared river basins."

  • With delivery of the car manufacturers' voluntary agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars looking increasingly unlikely (ENDS Report 349, p 60 ), the Commission will publish a Communication in December reviewing options for moving towards the target of 120g/km of CO2 and tabling proposals for action.

  • A Recommendation proposing a common approach to the recovery of "orphan" radioactive sources is due in December.

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