Date: Fri, 9 Jan 98 13:31:07 CST
From: Mark Graffis <>
Article: 25251

UK's Green agenda for Europe

ENS, 8 January 1998

LONDON, England, January 8, 1998 (ENS)—The starting gun for European environmental politics in 1998 was fired today, as the UK announced detailed plans for its six-month term as president of the EU Council of Ministers. Flanked by environment and transport ministers, the deputy prime minister John Prescott promised comprehensive new measures to help make Europe greener. John Prescott

UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott

The politics of EU enlargement and the launch of the European single currency will dominate the presidency, but Prescott made a spirited attempt today to back up a promise made last year by foreign minister Robin Cook that environmental issues would be one of the UK's priority areas.

The presidency comes at a key moment for UK domestic politics, as the country continues its old struggle over how central a participant it wants to be in the European project. Environmental policy is an area where the government sees an opportunity to fulfil its aim of reconnecting the EU with the people by publicising its six months in the public eye as Council president.

A full agenda awaits UK environment negotiators at both EU and international level. At Environment Council meetings in March and June, the presidency will try to broker common positions (firm agreement) on eight pieces of draft EU environmental legislation. It will continue discussions started under last year's Luxembourg presidency on more than ten other dossiers.

Key amongst these will be attempts to re-work the EU's position on climate change policy following agreement of the Kyoto protocol in December. Other areas highlighted by ministers today were action on air pollution, transport and biodiversity.

Whether the UK's strong opening performance can be maintained remains to be seen. It claims to be ambitious, but has also promised to be a good neutral chairman of discussions between the member states. The two may not always be compatible. On the other hand, there are dossiers over which the UK's has strongly opposed draft EU measures currently on the table.

European Commission proposals to cut acidification are a prime candidate. The UK is firmly among the EU group of countries that object to the potential costs of further major cuts in acidifying emissions. Relations with enthusiasts such as Sweden could be damaged if the UK's national interest is seen to vie with its duty as president to be impartial. This is possibly why the draft EU acidification strategy appears nowhere in the agenda published Wednesday.

On the draft landfill directive, the Council has already reached political agreement, but once again, the UK was amongst the minimalist camp in negotiations, and could be exposed when the European Parliament attacks the Council—as it is almost certain to do—for watering down the Commission proposal in a political agreement reached in December.


* Climate Change

Achieving agreement on an EU strategy on climate change to take account of the results of the Kyoto summit last month is the key objective of the UK presidency.

The UK has two broad aims. It wants to agree how much each member state will contribute towards the EU's legally binding target to reduce emissions of six greenhouse gases by 8% by 2008-2012. A great deal remains to be put into effect and frankly it will not be an easy task, environment minister Michael Meacher told journalists Wednesday.

The issue will be the central item on the environment council agenda in March but Meacher said the UK would be heroic to pull off agreement in a single meeting. He would press for an agreement by June. The question of whether the EU might aim for a more ambitious target than 8% is on the agenda for March, but Meacher said that no member state had pushed for this so far. Michael Meacher

UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher

The UK also has to forge a coordinated EU position for continuing international negotiations, in time for a further climate summit in Buenos Aires in November. The use of mechanisms such as emissions trading, carbon sinks and private sector investment in clean development were agreed in principle in Kyoto but Prescott acknowledged that there is a great fear that these may be used by countries to avoid their responsibilities. The UK would try to negotiate rules to overcome such fears with its partners in Europe and other industrialised countries through forthcoming G8 meetings.

Integrating Transport & Environment Prescott, who heads the UK's newly combined transport and environment department, is keen to share the experience with his EU counterparts. Two joint meetings of EU environment and transport ministers are scheduled—an informal gathering in Chester, UK, in April, and a formal council in Luxembourg in June.

The product is expected to be a set of conclusions on the priorities for future transport and environment policies, possibly setting the scene for new legislation. A pilot programme to test the use of cleaner vehicles in several key European cities will also be launched.


The UK is considering making chemicals in the environment the theme of an informal meeting of environment ministers on April 23. Environment Minister Meacher pointed out that the EU has no general chemicals strategy and said he particularly wanted to discuss how to deal with a small number of chemicals with damaging consequences including dioxins, alkyl phenols and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Hormone disrupting chemicals would be specifically addressed. Such a discussion is likely to please the Swedish government which last year called for an overhaul of the EU chemicals policy.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

The European Commission last year published a proposal to revise a 1990 EU directive on the deliberate release of GMOs. The UK has scheduled time for a first discussion of the Commission proposal's at the environment council in June. Meacher said he thought the Commission's proposals improved the original directive, but that they did not address public concerns about the long-term safety of GMOs. He wanted ministers to discuss how this issue might be addressed through the GMO approval process. UK PRESIDENCY ENVIRONMENTAL CALENDAR

January 28–29—UK environment protection agencies to host plenary meeting of EU network on the implementation and enforcement of environmental law (IMPEL).

March 6—European Environmental Bureau seminar on how environmental protection can help regional development and regeneration. UK government-funded.