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EU Executive Shelves Environment Initiatives

EU Executive Shelves Environment Initiatives
BRUSSELS - The European Commission has shelved planned initiatives on air quality and marine protection in the European Union while members reconsider the executive's overall environment policy, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

The two strategies were to have been aired this month, but Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso decided his team needed to discuss environmental issues at a general level first -- including the potential costs of such policies, Commission spokeswoman Francoise Le Bail told journalists.

"The president has said that the Commission had not discussed the environment sufficiently to date," she said.

Its debate on July 20 would look at the costs to consumers and companies of implementing environmental strategies, Le Bail added.

The air pollution strategy was aimed at reducing the number of premature deaths, estimated at 350,000 annually in the EU, caused by particulate matter in the air, among other things.

The marine strategy focused on protection and conservation, as well as pollution control and management of marine and inland waters.

Environmental groups criticised the delay.

"At the time when world leaders meeting at the G8 summit are showing unprecedented attention to environmental issues, it is perverse that the European Commission is backtracking on its environmental commitments", said Tony Long, director of the WWF European Policy Office, referring to a Group of Eight meeting later this week where climate change is high on the agenda.

"This is a time for global EU leadership on environmental issues and an excellent opportunity to reconnect the EU with European public opinion, an opportunity that the Commission is throwing away with its decision to postpone action," he said in a statement.

The delay, and apparent emphasis on cost, is the latest move by Commission members that environmental groups fear shows a bias away from the environment and towards business interests.

Last week Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe said Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen was pressing Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas to water down draft legislation that would require testing and registration of potentially hazardous chemicals, known as REACH.

The Commission's environment spokeswoman, Barbara Helfferich, said the strategies on air and marine pollution would be presented after the summer, followed by other strategies on waste, soil, pesticides, natural resources and urban environmental management later in the year.

Story by Jeff Mason

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