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EU Environment Council

Volume 556: debated on Monday 7 January 2013

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Resource Management, the Local Environment and Environmental Science, Lord de Mauley, represented the UK at the EU Environment Council in Brussels on 17 December 2012. Paul Wheelhouse (Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change) and John Griffiths (Welsh Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development) also attended.

After adopting the list of legislative and non-legislative A items, Environment Ministers adopted Council conclusions on “A Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Waters”. The UK welcomed the blueprint, praising its focus on implementation rather than new legislation, which is in line with principles of better regulation. Several other member states similarly supported the blueprint’s focus on implementation and greater integration.

Next, the presidency led an exchange of views on “Greening the European Semester”, based on the annual growth survey 2013. Discussion at Environment Council focused on the bottlenecks to achieving Europe 2020 resource efficiency objectives, and member states were asked to give their views as to which measures in the field of resource efficiency and climate action had the biggest potential to contribute to growth and job creation. A broad range of opinions were put forward. The UK made clear that actions needed to reflect the specificities of each member state; that any additional targets would need to be clearly justified; and highlighted our domestic actions to support resource efficiency. The Commission (Hedegaard) summarised the discussion by stating that the debate was timely, as the annual growth survey was increasingly becoming the key tool for setting economic priorities for the year to come. Discussions on the annual growth survey 2013 will take place at various EU-level Councils, and will inform debate at the spring European Council in March 2013.

Lord de Mauley attended a ministerial lunch, during which the outcomes of the COP18 climate change negotiations which recently took place in Doha were discussed. Member states recognised that overall a good outcome had been achieved at COP18 but, moving forwards, there is still much work to be done.

In the afternoon, an orientation debate on the seventh EU environment action programme (seventh EAP) was held. The Commission said that it had been a “difficult birth”, but that the seventh EAP should offer a clear-cut programme and a solid and pragmatic framework for years to come. The Commission said that there were only a few legislative gaps to be filled, and the main focus was on implementation. The tone of the discussion was generally positive. Many member states, including the UK, welcomed the focus on implementation. The UK said that they believed the environmental acquis was largely complete, and that any new proposals for legislation must be based on evidence and supported by a robust impact assessment. In that vein, the UK felt that the seventh EAP impact assessment was not quite fit for purpose, and stated that the UK would carry out further work to assess more accurately the ramifications of the programme. The specific concerns of other member states were wide-ranging, but several member states voiced a particular concern about proposed targets to reduce landfill.

Under environmental AOB items, a progress report was offered on the programme for the environment and climate action (LIFE), and the presidency provided information on environmental quality standards in the field of water policy (priority substances). The presidency also gave information on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment (the EIA directive). Belgium, Spain and the Czech Republic all intervened to air their concerns about the proposed measures, after which the presidency curtailed the discussion, highlighting that there would be further opportunities to discuss the proposal during the Irish Presidency.

In the afternoon, several climate change items were discussed under “Any Other Business”. The emissions trading scheme appeared on the agenda in the context of aviation, the recently published carbon market report and the Commission’s proposed measure for changing the auctioning profile for ETS allowances (known as “backloading”). With regards to backloading, Poland presented a paper, based on Commission data, which appeared to show the negative financial impact that backloading would have for certain member states. The Commission responded by questioning the validity of their analysis, and were supported by the Netherlands. A proposal to define the modalities for reaching the 2020 targets to reduce CO2 emissions from cars and vans was also presented. Most member states who intervened supported the proposal’s ambition in terms of target levels, and most supported looking at longer-term targets post-2020. The presidency also presented information on proposals for accounting rules and action plans on greenhouse gas emissions and removals relating from activities related to land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF). Finally, the Irish presented their priorities for the forthcoming Irish Presidency.

The UK also held short bilateral meetings with Croatia, France, the Netherlands and Lithuania.