• Dimas salvages clean air strategy – at least for the next few months

    An intense political battle within the 25-member European Commission has left the EU’s Clean Air for Europe (Café) programme officially due for launch in September but with doubts still hanging over it.


    In a special debate at the commissioners’ meeting on 20 July, the environment commissioner Stavros Dimas achieved a partial victory when the Commission agreed in principle to publish seven “thematic strategies” on environmental problems between September and December. The seven make up the EU’s sixth environmental programme, and the Café strategy is expected to be the first on the list, with marine pollution second.

    However, the details of the seven strategies will be subjected to another round of comment and challenge from the 25-member body, which has left many observers still sceptical that the strategies will appear this year.

    As Bulletin reported last month, the Commission president José Manuel Barroso ordered a comprehensive re-think after Unice, the organisation representing Europe’s biggest industries, said the seven strategies would create costs that would undermine the creation of jobs and growth, which is Barroso’s first priority.

    Previewing the 20 July meeting two days beforehand, the European news agency Environment Daily said: “The combined picture is increasingly one of EU environmental policy-making running into a brick wall. It reflects a huge power struggle over whether the EU’s environmental policies are compatible with its Lisbon strategy for economic growth and competitiveness.”

    The fact that there are still target dates for the publication of the seven strategies suggests Dimas won at least part of the debate. Officials from his directorate said he went into the meeting with three main arguments:

    • the seven strategies address problems that, if not addressed now, will cost the EU more than adopting a “wait and see” approach;

    • the aim of securing growth and competitiveness is a central part of each strategy, and achieving environmental objectives will create more jobs;

    • the strategies represent a simplification of existing rules and cannot be accused of making the EU’s catalogue of environmental regulations more complex.

    T&E director Jos Dings said: “The most frustrating thing about the battle for these latest environmental standards is that they represent a golden opportunity for European industry to get ahead of its global competitors. A basic understanding of environmental reality plus a reading of the international signals suggests that competitiveness won’t be helped by conforming to yesterday’s standards but by getting to tomorrow’s standards first.”

    The Café 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).

    • Italy’s commissioner Corrado Clini said there should be no fixed EU-wide air pollution targets, as every country is different. He said high pressure, together with a lack of wind and rain, made it much harder for parts of Italy to meet air targets than parts of Scandinavia. He also said Italy’s poor record on meeting current EU air pollution targets was due to monitoring differences, adding: “It’s not clear why we have a problem while Spain, Greece and France do not.”

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