News

Dimas ‘furious’ at setback to environment strategy

July 15, 2005

The EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas is reported to be furious with the Commission president José Manuel Barroso over the EU’s commitment to sustainability.

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Dimas’s anger was triggered by the latest delay in the proposed revision of the European Union’s clean air strategy and a programme to protect the EU’s marine environment.

The two initiatives are part of the seven “thematic strategies” which form the EU’s sixth environmental action programme. They were due to be published this month, but despite announcements from the Commission’s environment directorate that they were on schedule, the news emerged that none of the seven will now appear before the summer, with no indication about when they will be published.

Reports from the Commission say Barroso has ordered a comprehensive rethink of the plan. The Financial Times said he “feared it could hit business at a time when he wants to boost EU competitiveness”, and the EU news service Environment Daily said: “The delay looks like a startling lobbying success for the EU business association Unice, and sources say Barroso is blowing cold on green policies in the face of industry criticisms.”

The Clean Air for Europe programme “Cafe” is aimed at setting standards which will determine limits of five pollutants up to 2020. At one stage it was expected to be published by the end of 2003, and an announcement by the environment directorate last month said draft emissions limits would definitely be published in July.

The latest delay prompted the Group of 10 Brussels-based environmental organisations to write to Barroso asking for assurances that he was not capitulating to industry. The letter said: “Perhaps your decision was inspired by the current political turmoil following the referendum results in France and the Netherlands. Our view is that any weakening of the Commission’s environmental ambitions at this time would be the wrong response. All the signs are that European public opinion continues to have a strong and supportive stance in favour of EU environmental policy making.”

The Cafe programme involves the Commission recommending the emissions limits it believes are necessary for reducing pollution from sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ammonia and ultra-fine particles (PM2.5). Though the limits will not at first be mandatory, they will act as the basis for later mandatory limits.

Unice, the federation of European businesses, last month sent a letter to the Commission warning that Cafe could cause a massive rise in costs. It said existing EU air quality legislation would cost €66 billion a year, and new limits would cost another €16bn.

But the European Environmental Bureau said Unice had failed to take into account financial benefits from improving air quality, which it said would be between €31 and €140 billion a year. And it said the Commission’s draft limits were not excessive but too low to reach the EU’s air quality targets.

T&E director Jos Dings said: “The aspect of this that worries us most is that environmental concerns are playing an increasingly secondary role to business interests. It seems that business only has to shout, and some environmental measure is watered down. The Commission needs to stand firm and tell business that good economics should take air pollution into account. It is not good economics to shield industry from the costs of bad practice.”

Transport is affected by three of the environmental programme’s seven strategies: air pollution, the marine environment, and the urban environment.

This news story is taken from the July 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.