MEPs briefed on Dutch Presidency’s environmental priorities

Dutch State Secretary Pieter van Geel has spelled out his
environment programme before Parliament, focusing on eco-efficient,
innovative solutions to issues such as sustainable transport and
chemicals (REACH).

Speaking on 20 September before the Parliament’s Environment
Committee in Brussels, Van Geel said the Dutch Presidency would try
to avoid the “traditional conflict between economic and
environmental interests”.

Noting that “attention is at times focused too exclusively on
economic growth”, he said he believed environment-friendly
innovations “can help cut costs by reducing consumption of energy
and raw materials” and “can be used to create new markets”.

To him, solutions lie in “a mixture of instruments” that “should
focus first and foremost on green procurement policies, fiscal
incentives and green investment”. He also noted the importance of
working for “better internalisation of environmental costs” by
businesses and to “abolish subsidies that harm the
environment”.

Van Geel stated his “ultimate goal” is to persuade heads of
state and government at the next Spring European Council to
“endorse the proposition that eco-efficient innovations offer
opportunities to strengthen the competitiveness of the Union”.

On specific policy issues, Van Geel gave detailed indications on
the Dutch Presidency’s agenda:

  • Sustainable transport: 

The matter will be debated at the next Environment Council on 14
October with a series of concrete short-term solutions focusing on
road transport. Citing “fine dust and nitrogen oxide from diesel
engines” as being “among the most polluting road traffic
emissions”, Van Geel called on Member States to encourage the
Commission to present new proposals on emission requirements for
cars “without delay”. “Ambitious Euro 5 norms for cars can do much
to solve environmental and health problems,” Van Geel explained,
pointing to soot filters and catalytic converters as “possible
solutions” to reduce emissions of fine dust and nitrogen dioxide.

Traffic noise was mentioned as another “major
problem” whose impact on health is “greatly underestimated”. Van
Geel said he would “advocate measures which act rapidly and
effectively” such as quieter tyres and engines, which “have already
been developed”.

CO2 emissions from cars will also be discussed
at the next Environment Council. Referring to agreements signed
with car manufacturers until 2008-2009, Van Geel said it was “vital
to start thinking now about aims and policy instruments for the
period beyond that”. He said he hoped to “use the Council’s
influence to persuade the Commission to take action”.

  • REACH: 

The reform of the EU’s chemical policy (REACH) will be debated both
at the Competitiveness Council on 25-26 November and at the
Environment Council of 20 December. Van Geel said he hoped to use
the Environment Council to “reveal agreements and differences
between Member States on key parts of the proposal, such as
‘registration’, ‘data sharing and the avoidance of unnecessary
animal testing’ and the ‘general aspects’ of REACH”.

The Dutch Presidency will be holding a workshop at the end of
October to discuss the impact studies that have been published to
date on the REACH proposal and to “draw conclusions” on the
consequences of REACH “for industry and for society as a whole”.
Van Geel said he expects to make good progress this year so that
decisions can be taken in 2005.

  • Climate change: 

According to the Dutch environment State Secretary, enlargement
should allow Europe to “speak with an even louder voice” in global
environmental negotiations, “for example a the COP 10 on climate
change”. He pointed to the ongoing dialogue between the EU, Member
States, NGOs and academics to develop new approaches in regulating
industrial installation under the ENAP project (Exploring New Approaches). Initial findings of the
project, which included emissions trading, will be presented to EU
heads of state and government at the European Council in December.

  • Others: 

On the proposed Batteries Directive Van
Geel said he was “personally in favour of a blanket ban on all
batteries containing cadmium provided there are adequate
alternatives”. But he added that, as Council president it it his
“job to seek a compromise that takes due account of the positions
of all the Member States”. “At present, I cannot tell you the
precise terms of that compromise,” he said.

On Fluorinated gases (F-gases), Van Geel
said he would strive to achieve a political agreement in Council
before the end of the Dutch Presidency. 

Dutch State Secretary for Housing, Spatial Planning and the
Environment, Pieter Van Geel, has spelled out his priorities for
the rest of his term at the head of the EU Council of Ministers.
Addressing the Parliament's Environment Committee, Van Geel
reiterated the Dutch Presidency motto, "the environment as
opportunity" (see EURACTIV, 19 July 2004).

  • 14 October: Environment Council (Road transport, traffic noise,
    CO2 emissions from cars)
  • End October: Dutch Presidency workshop (REACH impact
    studies)
  • 25-26 November: Competitiveness Council (REACH)
  • 6-17 December, Buenos Aires: tenth Conference of the Parties to
    the Climate Convention (COP 10)
  • 17 December: European summit
  • 20 December: Environment Council (REACH)

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