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European Councils

Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Environment council on 13 June 2003; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting records; and if she will make a statement. [119887]

I represented the UK at Environment council on 13 June 2003. The council reached a provisional political agreement on one important legislative measure and agreed a general approach on another. The council also considered a number of other issues.The council reached agreement on a framework for a common position on the Environmental Liability directive. This measure will require polluters to bear the cost of remedying environmental damage, in line with the 'polluter pays' principle. Following intensive negotiation, the agreement reflects key UK concerns. First, there will be no obligation for compulsory financial security (to be reviewed within five years of implementation). Second, Member States will retain discretion to decide whether or not to remedy damage in the absence of the polluter. Third, Member States may choose to allow exception from liability on the basis that operations comply with a permit or were not judged harmful by the best scientific knowledge at the time. Some of the technical detail of the proposal remains subject to further discussions before an agreement is finalised. The text did however include a review of the coverage of damage falling within the scope of international conventions and of GMO damage. It should be noted that the Directive is intended to cover damage caused by the deliberate release or contained use of GMOs.Austria and Ireland opposed the agreement because it did not cover nuclear damage, and Germany was also opposed because of disagreement with major features, notably the permit and state of the art exceptions.The council also agreed a general approach on gaseous and particulate emissions from non-road mobile machinery. This included an exemption for lifeboat launchers from the scope of the Directive, an issue pressed by the UK in negotiations. I indicated that my intention at this stage was to abstain, pending European Parliamentary consideration, and that I had concerns about the second phase of the proposals. Germany was unable to support the general approach.Council debated a decision for establishing a monitoring mechanism for greenhouse gas emissions. I, together with Ministers from a number of other Member States, emphasised the need to clarify Member State and Community responsibilities in implementing certain obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, particularly with respect to establishing the assigned amount, and in exercising certain rights, including participation in the flexible mechanisms. There was general agreement to aim for political agreement in October.We also discussed a presentation from the Commission about progress towards its new system for registering and approving Chemicals. Draft proposals are currently subject to an internet consultation by the Commission.

Several Ministers emphasised the need to have the right balance in the proposals between environmental protection and industrial competitiveness. The Commission hoped to bring forward its full proposal by October, to enable progress to be made before the European parliamentary elections.

Together with Denmark, the UK tabled a paper drawing attention to the Commission's Communication on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade and calling for rapid progress on measures to address illegal logging and its associated trade. The council also noted written contributions on the recent Environment for Europe Conference in Kiev, Environmental Technologies, Sustainable Development in an enlarged Union, Natura 2000, vehicle emissions, sensitive sea areas, flood prevention and the herbicide Paraquat.

The Presidency reported that it had written to key members of the Convention on the Future of Europe, setting out the concerns with the inadequate treatment of the environment in the draft Constitutional Treaty. I circulated a letter to colleagues at council, highlighting my continuing concerns on these points, and about the negative impact of the proposal for a Single Legislative council. The Presidency considered that the latest draft Treaty text on environment and sustainable development was a significant improvement.