UK lays out stall for EU Presidency

The UK took over the rotating Presidency of the EU in July and presented its plans and priorities for the next six months.

The plans, unveiled on 1 July, contained few surprises as the UK largely picked up from where Luxembourg left off (ENDS Report 365, p 24 ). As expected, climate change and securing a political agreement on the proposed Regulation on the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH) are the two big environmental priorities, but the UK will have space to push forward a handful of other policies.

  • Climate: On the international stage, the UK will represent the EU at the first meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol, in November. This meeting will be crucial in setting the agenda for the agreement after 2012 and the Government will be looking at ways of engaging India and China on climate change. The UK will also represent the EU at the UN millennium review summit in September to discuss progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and the way forward.

    At the European level, the UK will prepare the ground for the second phase of the EU's climate change programme next year and could conceivably push for new, more stringent, medium and long-term targets, though the EU's recent lacklustre performance on emissions reduction could undermine this (see p 6 ).

    The October meeting of the Environment Council was to be dominated by a policy debate on aviation and climate change. But this has been thrown into question following the Commission's last-minute decision in July to delay publication of a Communication on aviation emissions.

    The move is a blow to the UK's ambitions to secure the early entry of aviation into the EU emissions trading scheme. The Commission has consistently held out for 2012 - the start of the third phase of the trading scheme - but the UK wants it in during the second phase which runs from 2008. The issue was due to be decided at the December meeting of the Environment Council.

    In September, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett will host an informal meeting of agriculture and environment Ministers in London to discuss the relationship between agriculture and climate change.

    Meanwhile, the Energy Council will focus on promoting renewables, a biomass action plan, and the recently released energy efficiency green paper (see pp 51-52 ).

    The Directive on eco-design standards for energy-using products will come into force during the UK presidency after being rubber stamped by the Council of Ministers in May (ENDS Report 363, p 60 ).1

  • REACH: The UK will seek political agreement on REACH, and the Regulation will be on the agendas of the Competitiveness and Environment Council meetings in October. The UK's chances of brokering a deal are good, but recent reports that José Manuel Barroso, the Commission President, and Enterprise Commissioner Günter Verheugen are unhappy with the costs of the proposal and want to see it watered down will make the job more difficult (see pp 48-49 ).

  • Thematic and sustainable development strategies: The seven thematic strategies which form the backbone of the sixth environmental action plan, and which will influence the shape of EU environment policy for the next twenty years, are slated to emerge after the summer.

    Two of these - on air quality and the marine environment - are largely complete and were due to be released in July, but Mr Barroso blocked their publication reportedly because of industry concerns over cost (see pp 3-4 ).

    If the strategies eventually emerge, they will be discussed at the October Environment Council, and in the case of the pesticides strategy the Agriculture Council, in the context of better regulation. There is also a slim chance that initial discussions on legislation stemming from the air quality strategy could begin at the December Environment Council.

    The Commission will table its proposals for a revised EU sustainable development strategy on the UK's watch, and the Environment Department (DEFRA) has identified reaching agreement on it as one of its priorities. The signs are that Mrs Beckett will have a fight on her hands as economically focused players at home and in the EU are bringing pressure to bear to secure the prioritisation of the economic dimension of sustainable development over the environment and society.

  • Services and integration: Liberalising the service sector is one of the priorities of the EU's Lisbon Strategy for jobs and growth, but in March leaders sent a proposed Directive on this back to the Commission for redrafting after a number of states, including Germany and France, raised concerns over its social and environmental impacts (ENDS Report 363, p 59 ).

    The UK, is keen to put the drive for service liberalisation back on track and will use its Presidency to break the deadlock and resolve political concerns over the Directive.

    The UK is also a champion of policy integration and wants to breathe new life into the stalled Cardiff process for integrating environmental concerns into all areas of EU policy. Mrs Beckett will use her role as chair of the environment and agriculture councils to press for more coordination between these two areas in particular.

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