The list of proposals which have been culled runs to several dozen items and is not confined to the environment. Among the environmental measures now being withdrawn are:
One, issued in 1986, would have been the first to set water quality standards (EQSs) at EC level for a "grey list" substance - in this case chromium (ENDS Report 132, pp 23-24). The second, issued in 1990, contained a list of 15 substances - mostly pesticides - which the Commission wanted to place on the "black list". Once the list had been agreed, it was the Commission's intention to propose daughter Directives containing discharge limits and EQSs for each substance, and these would have been subject to agreement by qualified majority vote for the first time (ENDS Report 181, pp 36-37).
The scrapping of these two proposals is of considerable significance. It appears to mark the end of the Commission's ambitions to carry on issuing daughter Directives for black list substances. Only seven such Directives, covering 17 substances, have been adopted since 1976, and it has been plain for some time that there was little prospect of the Commission working its way through its list of 109 candidates for the black list, let alone any other new candidates, using this approach in anything like a reasonable time.
Likewise, the attempt to develop a series of daughter Directives on grey list substances has foundered at the first hurdle, and no more is likely to be heard on the issue from Brussels.
A spokesman for the Commission confirmed to ENDS that its programme of daughter Directives was now "asleep". However, he added that there may still be a case for harmonised Community measures for some dangerous substances, such as mothproofing agents.
The Commission is now rewriting the 1976 Directive in the light of other developments in EC environmental policy. These include the IPPC Directive, due to be issued as a formal proposal in September, the 1991 Directive on plant protection products, a new proposal on biocides (see pp 37-38 ), and a Regulation adopted last year which has established a risk assessment programme for older or "existing" chemicals (ENDS Report 218, pp 38-40 ).
The IPPC Directive will pave the way to sector-by-sector limits on discharges of dangerous substances. These will initially be set by Member States in accordance with the "best available techniques not entailing excessive cost", but may subsequently be harmonised at EC level.
This programme will deal with the major point sources of dangerous substances. However, the Commission's spokesman noted that in rewriting the 1976 Directive in the light of IPPC "we must be careful not to lose the good thing about it - it was a good safeguard on the quality objective side." UK observers will no doubt reflect on the irony of the Commission now accepting that EQSs have a role in safeguarding the aquatic environment, particularly from diffuse discharges. One of the most bitter and prolonged disputes in the EC's environmental policy was the insistence of the Commission and most other Member States that there was no need to set EQSs for black list substances at Community level, with the UK being the sole proponent of this approach.
The Commission's immediate goal is to complete a priority-setting exercise to identify substances for control from its own existing priority candidate list, together with a priority list and a second "reference" list agreed at the third North Sea conference in 1990.2 The current hope is to publish the results of this exercise in December. Member States and industry will then be given time to respond before the Commission presents a final version of the paper to the next North Sea conference in Copenhagen in 1995.
What follows is still up in the air, but one possibility is that the Commission may propose that Member States should themselves carry out a risk assessment exercise, based on an agreed methodology, to identify their own black list candidates for control. It is not yet clear whether the Commission will then seek to harmonise Member States' national control measures, as it did with the black list Directives, or leave this entirely to their discretion.
This new approach to water pollution policy is likely to be linked closely for the first time to the EC's chemicals policy. A substantial body of aquatic toxicity data will be generated by the Community's programmes on existing chemicals, crop protection products and biocides in the coming years, and this is likely to provide a firmer basis for formal risk assessments of the kind the Commission has in mind. Little more can be said for the moment about where this shift will eventually take the EC's water pollution policy.