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Environment Council - 3 March 1997

The Council of Environment Ministers of the European Union met, in Brussels, on 3 March 1997, under the presidency of Mrs. Margreeth De Boer, Dutch Minister for Housing, Planning and the Environment.

A major outcome of the meeting was the Ministers' agreement on the Union's n...
The Council of Environment Ministers of the European Union met, in Brussels, on 3 March 1997, under the presidency of Mrs. Margreeth De Boer, Dutch Minister for Housing, Planning and the Environment.

A major outcome of the meeting was the Ministers' agreement on the Union's negotiating position on the reduction of green house gases, in preparation for the Kyoto conference of the parties to the global Climate Treaty, to be held in December.

A global objective of a 15% reduction in greenhouse gases, from their 1990 level, by the year 2010 was agreed. This included the setting of separate targets for each Member State taking account of national circumstances and capabilities. The Council stressed, however, that these conclusions establish a Community negotiating position for the ongoing negotiations, not a unilateral commitment.

The Council also discussed key issues relating to the implementation of Community environmental law based on a draft resolution tabled by the Presidency. The resolution will deal with:

- The specificity of environmental protection and its impact on environmental law;
- Drafting of Community environmental legislation;
- Transposition and practical application;
- Inspections;
- IMPEL (EU Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law);
- Dealing with complaints of and legal protection for citizens and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Adoption of the resolution is expected at the Council's June meeting.

Political agreement was reached on a common position on the proposal for a Community programme promoting NGOs primarily active in the field of environmental protection. Once adopted, this programme will give a legal basis, and therefore stability, to an already existing practice of co-financing NGOs particularly active in this field. The programme is due to run from 1 January 1998 to 31 December 2001. The financial reference amount for its implementation over this period is ECU 10.6 million.

The Ministers proceeded to a second policy debate on the Auto-Oil programme, which contains two proposals for Directives on the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and on the measures to be taken against air pollution by emissions from motor vehicles. Compromises are yet to be found as regards the limit values of the year 2000 and the possible limit values for 2005. A majority of delegations support a follow-up to the Auto-Oil programme, which should mainly pursue the same orientation as the first one but with further elaboration on cleaner engines and fuels.

A general debate was held on the Commission's communication on environmental agreements which aims to develop guidelines and set conditions for the effective use of such agreements at Member State level, and to ascertain how they can be used at Community level. A large majority of delegations shared the view that environmental agreements can play a useful complementary role under clear conditions. The Council will pursue its discussion on this issue at its session in June.

Commissioner Bjerregaard presented to the Council a proposal for a Directive on the limitation of the emissions of organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain processes and industrial installations. She also presented the Commission's proposed Water Framework Directive aimed at establishing a framework for a European Community water policy.

The Directive amending Directive 85/337 concerning the evaluation of the impact of certain public and private projects on the environment was adopted without discussion. This Directive is considered as one of the primary Community instruments for the prevention, at source, of environmental damage. The amendments adopted are aimed essentially at clarifying and extending the range of the Directive. Member States will have two years to conform to the new Directive.

Other items on the agenda included:

- Review of the Directive 90/220 on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms in the environment;
- The Commission communication on environmental taxes and charges in the single market;
- Taxation on energy and, in particular, kerosene;
- Small and medium-sized enterprises and the environment;
- State of the European Agreement concerning CO2 car emissions;
- First European conference on sustainable development in the islands (23-26 April 1997).

The Environment Council was followed by a Joint Ministerial Meeting with environment ministers from Central and East European countries (CEECs) within the framework of the "structured dialogue" - part of the pre-accession strategy defined by the European Council in Essen (December 1994). This time the meeting focused on policies regarding climate change. The discussions highlighted the important efforts still needed from both the EU and the CEECs in order to cope with the challenge of climate change.
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