Proposals for fifth EC environment programme published

Long-awaited European Commission proposals for the EC's fifth Environment Action Programme have finally been published.1 They are closely in line with a draft reviewed in detail by ENDS in January (ENDS Report 204, pp 20-3 ). But the Commission appears to have lowered its sights for "greening" fiscal policies, and has also bowed to national sensitivities by deleting long-term emission targets for carbon dioxide. The Programme will guide the EC's environmental policy until 2000, although it will be reviewed in 1995.

The draft Programme is different from its predecessors by setting out a number of quantitative, though non-binding, objectives for the next eight years, together with a programme and accompanying timetable for legislation and other actions at Community level.

The draft also places a good deal of emphasis on "shared responsibility" between the EC and national and local authorities, industry, consumers and others in setting the Community on the path of sustainable development. Indeed, the emphasis has been reinforced in the final text following the inclusion of new provisions on "subsidiarity" - the doctrine dictating that action should be taken at Community, national or local level as appropriate in each case - in the revised EC Treaty at the Maastricht summit in December.

Only limited amendments have been made to the draft reviewed by ENDS in January. Probably the most significant is a change in the Commission's proposals on the integration of environmental considerations into fiscal policies.

In the previous draft, the Commission promised to assess the implications for the environment when drawing up proposals for EC policies and legislation in several areas, including fiscal policy. This reference has now been deleted.

The Commission also promised to "encourage the Member States to undertake a systematic analysis of their fiscal policies," as well as to ensure that environmental considerations would be integrated into future changes tending towards the convergence of the fiscal policies of the Member States. A "considerable degree of harmonisation" was also envisaged in national environmental taxes.

While the final draft acknowledges that fiscal incentives "can exert considerable influence on patterns of consumption and behaviour," the specific reference to the Commission promoting a review of national fiscal systems from an environmental perspective has been dropped, as has any suggestion of harmonisation. Instead, it proposes to encourage an alleged evolution towards the integration of environmental considerations in national fiscal policies, but without saying how it intends to do so.

Another major change in the final version of the draft Programme is the deletion of longer-term targets for CO2 emissions. The earlier draft suggested that, once the Community had stabilised its CO2 emissions at 1990 levels by 2000, it should move on to make reductions of the order of 10% by 2005 and 20-25% by 2010. These latter targets have been excised.

Another noteworthy change concerns the Commission's relationship with industry. New references have now been inserted on its intentions to promote a dialogue with industry, and to encourage voluntary agreements and other forms of self-regulation.

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