EU shelves key environmental strategies as economy trumps ecology

Key legislation to protect Europe from air pollution has been put on the backburner by the European Commission, sparking outrage from environmentalists.

The thematic strategy was due to be put before the EU Parliament but was pulled off the agenda by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso who claimed its implementation would have an unacceptable impact on the economy.

The strategy has now been postponed, with no date set for its reintroduction into the EU's schedule of business.

The eleventh hour change of heart has left Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas with egg on his face and the rest of the commission split.

The self-styled Green 10 group of environmental NGOs in Brussels, which includes WWF, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, has reacted angrily to the President's decision.

"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 WWF European policy office.

"Public health and environment policies are among the most supported actions at European level.

"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."

In his planned launch of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution Commissioner Dimas was to have told MEPs that air pollution was linked to some 350,000 premature deaths every year in the Union as well as causing huge amounts of damage to agriculture and costing industry and Governments billions of Euros.

"Even with current policies, there will still be over 270,000 premature deaths in 2020 if we do not take further action," he said.

"There will also remain serious risks for up to one million square kilometres of natural ecosystems.

"In short, the damage to health and the environment is so big - at least 200 billion euros per annum for health impacts alone - that we must do more."

President Barroso was clearly not swayed by the economic argument, however, citing business concerns as the reason for the need to go back to the drawing board.

Six other thematic strategies for the environment due for consideration in the near future also suffered a set back, with Barroso ordering them to be taken back for review.

The strategies cover natural resources, pesticides, soil, the urban environment, waste and water quality.

Together they were supposed to offer what Dimas had described 'a new way of making "joined-up" environment policy'.

But his dreams of a coherent and far reaching environmental policy now lay in tatters with little hope of an early salvage.

By Sam Bond



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