Chemicals and climate priorities of UK Presidency

The UK takes over the rotating Presidency of the EU in July. The Presidency is mainly about steering a steady course and there is little leeway for radical policy shifts, but incumbents can introduce new issues to the EU policy agenda and push forward existing initiatives.

  • Climate: The UK has highlighted climate change as a priority both of its chairmanship of the G8 and the Presidency. Much of the EU agenda will be influenced by the outcome of the G8 summit at Gleneagles in July, but a spokesman for the UK Presidency highlighted the inclusion of aviation in the EU emission trading scheme (ETS) as a key goal.

    "We realise that we're not going to have aviation in the ETS by the end of the Presidency, but we would like the process to start," he told ENDS. "We want the Commission and Member States to think about incorporating it from 2008" - the start of the second phase of the scheme.

    This is significantly earlier than expected and puts the Presidency on a collision course with the European Commission. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas announced in June that he does not think that it will be possible to include aviation in the ETS before 2012 (see pp 41-42 ).

    He explained that the administrative work involved in bringing aviation under the scheme meant that 2008 would be difficult to achieve. He also pointed out that companies needed plenty of notice to plan for changes to the ETS and that the rule and design changes required for the rapid introduction of a new sector like aviation could significantly distort the market.

    The Presidency spokesman responded: "It might not fall neatly into phase 1 or 2. While it may not be bureaucratically neat, it is so important we have to act." He suggested that aviation could be admitted to the scheme between phase 2 and phase 3.

    The UK also plans to use the Presidency to raise awareness of climate change.

  • REACH: The UK takes over the Presidency at a time when the EU's proposed Regulation on the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH) moves from a technical assessment to a political phase.

    Securing a political agreement on REACH at the December meeting of the Competitiveness Council has emerged as a priority. As a powerful Member State with a large chemicals sector, the UK is well placed to broker a political compromise on the Regulation.

  • Kick-starting Cardiff: Another aim of the Presidency will be to breathe new life into the so-called "Cardiff process" on the integration of environmental concerns into all areas of EU policy. Launched at the last UK presidency in 1998, the Cardiff process has since flagged.

    The signs are that the UK will have an uphill struggle. Successive Presidencies have ignored the process and the European Council has treated it as little more than a cosmetic exercise.

    Even Catherine Day, director general of the Environment Directorate, is not optimistic: "The idea of integration is still very much alive, but the Cardiff process is not going anywhere," she said.

    Despite this, the UK will push the issue as it chairs the Councils. In particular, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett will promote mainstreaming of environmental policies when she chairs the Agriculture Council at its informal meeting in September. She will highlight the relationship between agriculture and climate change in particular.

  • Thematic strategies: All seven of the EU's environmental thematic strategies will be launched during the UK Presidency. The first two - on the marine environment and air pollution - will appear in July, with the remaining five scheduled for the autumn.

    The air pollution thematic strategy is likely to be championed by the UK. Not only has the Environment Department (DEFRA) had a big input into the Clean Air for Europe programme, which has informed the development of the strategy, but it is also viewed as an easy win. There is general support for action to tackle pollution across the EU and it will be relatively simple to introduce.

    The marine strategy, on the other hand, is likely to be more contentious and will stray into the realm of international agreements.

  • Sustainable development strategy: The Commission will also present its proposals for the EU sustainable development strategy on the UK's watch. In May, the Commission outlined the "guiding principles" which will shape this strategy.

    While the principles and accompanying declaration emphasise environmental protection as a key objective, economic concerns are more prominent. Issues such as the need for balanced economic growth, price stability, competitive markets and full employment are pushed to the fore.

    The guidelines will be discussed at the ministerial meeting in June. But given the fall-out from the results of the Dutch and French referendums and the scuffle over the UK's budget rebate, it is unclear how much time they will spend on it.

    Unlike the Commission's last proposal for a sustainable development strategy, this document is also being formally presented to the European Parliament for its consideration.

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