Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report

Letter from an official at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Clerk of the Committee


Please find attached for information the text of a written answer to a PQ from Andy King, which was answered by Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment on 2 July. The question asked for a report on the outcome of the 7 June Environment Council.

Environment Council (Luxembourg)

Andy King: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Environment Council held in Luxembourg on 7 June. [1798]

Mr Meacher: I am writing to report the outcome of the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 7 June. As the Council fell on the same day as the General Election, there were no Environment Ministers available to attend, and the UK was represented by Bill Stow, Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU. Council reached a political agreement on six common positions, two of which allowed agreement to be reached with the European Parliament at first reading. The UK abstained on the vote on a proposed Directive on low-temperature emissions from motor vehicles, and voted in favour of the other common positions. Council also adopted five sets of conclusions.

Political agreement was reached on a Decision of the Commission and European Parliament on the Sixth Environment Action Programme. This will set out the EU's environmental priorities for the next 10 years, focusing on climate change, nature and biodiversity, environmental health, and sustainable management of natural resources and waste. The UK achieved its objectives of a commitment to improve the policy process, a clearer priority for climate change action, and of a commitment to further analysis before the development and adoption of detailed targets. Political agreement was also reached on a proposal to amend Directive 90/313, giving the public enhanced rights of access to environmental information in line with the more demanding requirements of the Aarhus Convention.

In reaching Political Agreement on a Directive seeking to reduce the quantity of waste from electrical and electronic equipment and increase recycling, the UK achieved its objectives. The Directive delivers environmental benefits, and is in line with the Government's objectives on waste, and Council has avoided changes which would have made it more inflexible and less workable. In particular the UK secured additional flexibility for small manufacturers and on the arrangements for retailer takeback. Member States agreed that collection systems will have to be set up within 30 months of the Directive coming into force, with distributers having to take back used equipment free of charge on a like-for-like basis either in-store or through third parties. Producers were made responsible for reaching recovery and recycling targets within 46 months. A target of recycling 4 kg waste per person per year by 36 months following entry into force of the Directive was also agreed. Agreement was also reached on a related Directive restricting the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, protecting the environment from potential damage arising from the disposal of this equipment, and facilitating recycling. The Council agreed a date of 2007 for the phasing out of specific hazardous substances, including lead and mercury.

Council was able to approve all of the European Parliament's amendments on a Decision establishing a list of priority substances under the Water Framework Directive, allowing it to be adopted at first reading. The list contains 33 Priority Substances, 11 of which are classified as Priority Hazardous Substances. The Commission will be responsible for bringing forward proposals for measures aimed at the progressive reduction and, for Priority Hazardous Substances, at the cessation or phasing-out of emissions, discharges and losses. A first reading agreement was also reached on a Directive regulating emissions from motor vehicles starting in cold conditions. The UK abstained on the basis that the costs of implementing the proposal were disproportionate to the limited environmental benefits it would bring about, and recorded its position in a statement for the Council minutes.

Council conclusions on climate change reaffirmed the EU's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and its willingness to negotiate constructively at the resumed COP6 in July. Ministers reiterated the target of ratification and entry into force of Kyoto by 2002. The Council also held an informal discussion on climate change over dinner.

In response to the Commission's White Paper on EU chemicals policy Council conclusions were agreed. Ministers offered broad support for the proposal that existing and new substances would in future be subject to the same authorisation process ("REACH" — Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals) while stressing the need for realistic deadlines. The conclusions recommend an objective of phasing out uses of chemicals that lead to significant negative impact on the environment by 2020, while maintaining the competitiveness of the chemicals industry. The Conclusions also call for a minimum of animal testing and increased public access to information about chemicals. Separately, in response to a suggestion by the Netherlands, Council agreed conclusions calling on the Commission to clarify the legal situation and possible consequences of the phase-out of mercury in the chlor-alkali industry, and report back to Council.

In preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+10) in Johannesburg in 2002, Council conclusions were agreed setting out a broad EU approach with suggestions for themes for consideration at the Summit. These include protection of natural resources, integrating environment and poverty eradication and making globalisation work for sustainable development. Council also agreed conclusions on a strategy for an integrated product policy, the overall aim of which is to reduce the environmental impact of products across their whole life cycle.

The Commission briefly updated Council on work on a number of forthcoming proposals, including its planned proposals on the labeling and traceability of GMOs, emphasising the difficult technical and legal implications of the proposals, which are still under consideration within the Commission. Commissioner Wallstrom also reported on developments in environmental relations with Russia.

The Presidency informed Council it would consider what progress could be made on the Directives on Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making, Recreational Craft, Non-Road Mobile Machinery and the Recommendation on Integrated Coastal Zone Management, before Belgium took over the EU Presidency in July.

Over lunch, Council discussed the Commission's Communication on an EU Sustainable Development Strategy, and a Presidency report on the integration of environmental considerations into other policy areas, in preparation for the Gothenburg European Council on 15-16 June.

16 July 2001

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Prepared 30 July 2001