Commission trims ambitions in 2004 work programme

A much reduced work programme has been put forward by the European Commission for 2004. But next year will still see several significant environmental policy developments, including the first three "thematic strategies".

The Commission's annual work programmes are commonly crammed with legislative and other initiatives. The programme for this year saw some three dozen measures with environmental significance (ENDS Report 336, p 49-50 ).

For 2004, however, the Commission has published a far more modest agenda in preparation for the accession of ten new countries to the EU on 1 May. The European Parliament will hold its last full session in early May, with elections following in mid-June. A new Commission will be installed on 1 November.

Nevertheless, the Commission is planning to launch several important initiatives during the year, including three of the seven thematic strategies promised in the EU's sixth action programme (6EAP), which set the framework for environmental policy until 2012 (ENDS Report 313, pp 46-48 ).

  • In September, the Commission plans to launch its strategy on waste recycling and prevention. This is expected to set out plans to identify priority wastes, measures to ensure their recycling and collection, and instruments to encourage the creation of markets for recycled materials (ENDS Report 341, pp 53-54 ).

  • A strategy on soils is also due in September, although the Commission may struggle to propose many firm measures. Last year, a consultation paper highlighted a variety of pressures on the EU's soils, but also identified the lack of data on soil quality as an obstacle to early action (ENDS Report 327, p 51 ).

    According to the work programme, the strategy "will look at the priority areas of erosion, organic matter content and soil contamination, analysing the causes of problems and recommending the most cost-effective combination of measures (local, regional, national, EU) to protect and improve soil resources."

    The programme also promises two draft Directives, although it is not clear whether these will be issued at the same time. One will propose a framework for soil monitoring at EU level.

    The second will cover composting, establishing "common ground rules for the processing and use of composted organic matter". Drafts of a proposed Directive on biowaste have already been circulated for discussion (ENDS Report 314, pp 51-52 ).

  • A third thematic strategy due in September will cover the sustainable use of pesticides. A discussion paper published last year mooted the concept of national plans and associated measures to reduce hazards, risks and dependence on chemical crop protection (ENDS Report 330, p 54-55 ). The Commission says that the strategy will be accompanied by "the first proposals for appropriate legislation".

  • A non-thematic strategy on mercury is promised for October. It will propose possible actions at EU and international level to minimise the risks posed by mercury to the global environment.

    "To achieve this objective," the paper says, "the strategy aims at further reductions of emissions of mercury into air, water and land, the reduction of mercury cycled on a global scale as long as it is under the regime of the EU, trade of mercury only to reliable users inside and outside the EU, [and] handling of mercury with the appropriate care and responsibility in the EU."

    The biggest issues for the strategy will be whether any changes are needed to current arrangements for dealing with mercury generated by the closure of mercury cells in the EU's chlor-alkali industry, and whether the closure programme should be accelerated.

    Environmentalists argue that mercury produced by the closure programme is, at the very least, underpinning continued usage of the metal in dispersive applications elsewhere in the world. The Commission set out the options in a paper last year (ENDS Report 332, pp 43-44 ).

    Other environmental policy developments due in 2004 are:

  • In March, the Commission intends to publish a Communication on climate change, reviewing progress towards the EU's target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and proposing new policies to meet it. Recent increases in emissions have put achievement of the target in doubt on current policies (ENDS Report 340, pp 56-57 ).

    However, the programme makes no mention of the commitment made in the 6EAP for action to combat greenhouse gas emissions from aviation and shipping.

  • Three draft Directives are due in March on vehicle emissions. Two will propose new emission standards and associated test requirements for mopeds and motorcycles, and the third will introduce on-board diagnostic thresholds to apply from 2005 to new cars and vans.

  • In April, the Commission is due to report on Member States' progress towards meeting the non-binding targets set by the renewable energy Directive. Progress is expected to be poor, and the Commission may consider further measures to focus Member States' minds, as well as proposing a common EU support mechanism for renewables (ENDS Report 344, pp 56-57 ).

  • May will see a review of the EU sustainable development strategy (ENDS Report 316, p 47 ) and proposed next steps.

  • In June, the Commission will propose two Directives banning the marketing and use of certain carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic chemicals for sale to the general public, and the use of toluene and trichlorobenzene in certain applications.

  • Another legislative proposal in June will be a draft Regulation on forest law enforcement, governance and trade aimed at combating imports of illegally sourced timber, mainly from developing countries. Timber exports from participating countries will require a permit attesting to their legality.

  • A Communication setting out an action plan on environment and health for 2004-10 is due in June. The Commission has already set out proposals for improving understanding of the links between environmental conditions and childhood respiratory disease, asthma and allergies, childhood cancer and endocrine-disrupting effects. The plan will set out proposals for a first cycle of research and ways of reducing harmful exposures.

  • In September, the Commission intends to propose a Directive linking annual taxes on cars to their carbon dioxide emissions. A discussion paper on the issue was published last year (ENDS Report 336, pp 53-54 ).

  • The Commission has also announced plans to simplify legislation during 2004. Two such initiatives will cover emissions from heavy duty vehicles and "waste legislation". No further details or timings have been given. Air quality legislation is also being reviewed for future simplification.

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