2006: Crunch time for EU environmental policies


Europe is gearing up for the next phase of its controversial climate change programme while member states prepare to take key decisions on strategies that will define EU environmental policies for the years to come.

Brussels circles agree 2006 will be a defining year for EU environmental policies with a series of decisions expected on several key issues:

Climate change and CO2 trading

  • EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS): member states are to submit  their second round of national action plans to cut industrial emissions of CO2 by 30 June (see EURACTIV LinksDossier). The plans will apply for 2008 until 2012, which is the period the EU has committed to cut greenhouse gases by 8% compared to 1990 levels under the Kyoto Protocol. In this context, the Commission’s ability to enforce strict emissions caps on reluctant EU nations has been undermined by a European Court of Justice judgement, which ruled in favour of the UK’s decision to raise its CO2 allowances to industry above pre-approved levels (EURACTIV, 24 Nov. 2005). The Commission indicated in December that it is still weighing up whether or not to appeal against the judgement.
  • EU-ETS review: the second round of NAPs will come as the debate on the review of the ETS is hotting up. Energy ministers recently asked the Commission to table proposals “as soon as possible” to make the EU-ETS more cost-efficient and in line with EU economic growth and competitiveness objectives (EURACTIV, 2 Dec. 2005). The inclusion of airlines in the ETS is already planned in the review (EURACTIV, 2 Dec. 2005)
  • Second climate change programme: these developments will take place with discussions on the second European Climate Change Programme (ECCP II) having only just started (EURACTIV, 24 Oct. 2005)

Clean air and other environmental ‘thematic strategies’

  • Member states are preparing to examine and endorse several environmental strategies that sparked controversy when discussed internally in the Commission (EURACTIV, 20 July 2005). Both the Commission and the member states now agree that environmental policies should stick closely to the principles of ‘better regulation’ which, for instance, requires strict economic impact assessment are made prior to every legislative proposal. The strategies due to be discussed in Council include:
    • clean air (see EURACTIV LinksDossier)
    • marine environment (EURACTIV, 26 Oct. 2005)
    • waste and recycling
    • natural resource use

Chemicals policy review (REACH)

  • A second reading on the heavily disputed draft REACH regulation is expected in Parliament and Council. A final agreement could be struck under the Finnish Presidency at the end of the year, an encouraging sign since the future chemicals agency will be based in Helsinki (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

Sustainable development strategy review

Debates in Council are expected over the review of the EU’s sustainable development strategy. The issue here will be to determine whether the economic aspects of sustainable development should take precedence over the social or environmental aspects (EURACTIV, 14 Dec. 2005)

Environmental policies are expected to come under further attack in 2006 for running counter to the Barroso Commission's chief objective to revive Europe's economy, the Lisbon agenda. 

Despite the official rhetoric denying any such contradiction, tensions are now apparent between commissioners who criticise the excessive cost of environmental policies for the economy (Mc Creevy, Verheugen) and those who view them also as a driver for innovation and growth (Dimas, Piebalgs).


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