I attended the EU Environment Council in Brussels on 16 December. I would like to update the House on the matters discussed.
Draft Council Conclusions on the Mid-Term Review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020
The conclusions were adopted, and were welcomed by Ministers and the Commission who also underlined that further work was still needed to meet the strategy’s objectives by 2020. Member states also noted the importance of the EU nature directives and the need to retain them in their current form to provide certainty and avoid any diminishing of standards. The UK raised concerns over the implementation of the nature directives. It concluded that the best way to address these would not be through reopening the directives themselves, but instead through looking at much better approaches to implementation.
National Emission Ceilings Directive
The Council adopted a general approach on the national emission ceilings directive. Following negotiations in the Council, the presidency secured a comfortable qualified majority for its compromise text. Denmark, Poland, and Austria voted against and Germany abstained. Although the Commission emphasised that it would prefer a higher level of ambition, it supported the presidency’s push to move to the next stage of negotiations. Notwithstanding their national position, the Netherlands reassured member states that, as presidency, they would defend the position reached by the Council in forthcoming negotiations with the European Parliament. The UK welcomed the agreement while indicating the very limited room for manoeuvre during the future negotiations with the European Parliament.
Any Other Business: Circular Economy
Under any other business, the Council took note of information provided by the Commission on the recently published circular economy package. Member states welcomed the package, although a number of concerns were raised. The UK regretted that insufficient attention was shown to potential benefits the circular economy could bring on jobs and growth, and raised concerns about the target-based approach. Negotiations will begin in earnest in January 2016.
Any Other Business: Paris Climate Change summit
All Ministers signed a congratulatory letter to the French presidency of the Paris summit, and Ministers were thanked for their support and unity during the negotiations. The Commission described the outcome as a triumph for EU co-operation and for multilateralism more generally, while noting the EU’s role in building the influential high ambition coalition. The Commission set out its next steps: to draft a Council decision for signing of the Paris agreement; progress the negotiations of revision of the EU emissions trading system (ETS); produce legislative proposals for “effort sharing” of reductions outside the EU ETS including land use considerations; and make proposals on the decarbonisation of transport.
Any Other Business: Further Points
Council noted information provided by the presidency, supported by seven member states, on the challenges and options for improving implementation of legislation on chemical products in scope of Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) legislation.
Council also noted information provided by Sweden on sustainable methods of producing and consuming medicines and managing the resulting waste. The Commission was about to launch a study on the environmental impacts of such substances.
Council further noted information provided by Greece on the forthcoming meeting of the contracting parties (COP10) to the Barcelona convention.
Council noted information provided by Belgium on reducing pollution caused by consumption on the move, a so-called European deposit scheme. The Commission did not intend to introduce such a scheme, after a feasibility study had suggested there would be disproportionate costs, but noted that member states were free to set up their own schemes.
The Commission briefly presented the state of the energy union report, as had been done in other Council formations. Four political messages were emphasised: first, that energy union was closely aligned with the UN climate process, and that the EU must remain a global leader on implementing low carbon transition; secondly that energy union was something the Commission needed to lead, but that this needed action and engagement from all member states; thirdly, that the geopolitical challenges on this issue are unlikely to reduce; and finally, that governance was a key issue.
The Netherlands presented information on the work programme for their presidency.
Over lunch, Ministers exchanged views on the latest developments concerning the automobile sector and emissions testing.