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Concern in Helsinki over the environmental effects of EU enlargement

The Environment Council met informally in Helsinki, on 24 and 25 July, bringing together Ministers from the EU Member States, the Central and Eastern European countries and Cyprus along with the European Commissioner for the environment, for the first time under Finland's Pres...
The Environment Council met informally in Helsinki, on 24 and 25 July, bringing together Ministers from the EU Member States, the Central and Eastern European countries and Cyprus along with the European Commissioner for the environment, for the first time under Finland's Presidency of the Council.

The need for sustainable development - a priority under the Amsterdam Treaty which entered into force on 1 May - underpinned most of the discussions at the meeting. Delegates generally agreed that environmental protection must be high on the agenda for environmental action, particularly as enlargement and liberalisation loom on the horizon. Environmentalists expect that EU enlargement will produce economic and technological development: processes which have historically led to adverse side effects for the environment. To minimise this, the Environment Council will concentrate on 'de-coupling' processes, designed to breakdown this cause-effect relationship. These will include better environmental monitoring and 'eco-efficiency'. Research and development will also play an important role in improving efficiency in the way resources are managed.

Climate change is another of the Environment Council's priorities and it will aim to establish common, coordinated policies to help to achieve the Kyoto targets. However, the Council fears this will not be sufficient. Policies and targets for transport, energy and industry will therefore be prioritised, it said. This could be implemented through revised targets for energy efficiency and an increase in the renewable energy sector share of the markets, and doubling the energy output from combined heat and power generation.

The delegations also agreed that economic instruments and a framework for energy to promote eco-efficiency would be desirable. Council members said they want to see sector-specific targets using economic instruments to set technical and emissions standards, as well as better innovation and industry agreements to promote cleaner modes of transport (like rail and shipping).

The group also discussed how it could promote sustainable agriculture by, for example, setting targets to increase the share of agricultural land covered by the agri-environment programme.

Another major point of discussion was over international trade rules and the forthcoming WTO millennium round. The Council wants international trade rules to recognise the right to apply national and regional measures to protect human health and the environment, as well as a sustainable development strategy for developing countries.

This was not an occasion for policy-making, but was, nonetheless, important in setting the tone for dealing with environmental issues during the Finnish Council Presidency. In December, at the Environment Council Ministers will be able to sit back and take stock of its progress and review its strategies.
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