Denmark outlines ambitious EU green agenda

Denmark has taken over the EU’s rotating six-month presidency, with an ambitious environmental policy agenda. Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller unveiled the presidency programme in which green issues feature strongly.

Among its many proposals, Denmark’s key aims are to secure ministerial agreements on carbon dioxide emissions trading and rules for tracking and labelling genetically modified foods. Denmark also intends to focus on the creation of a draft environmental liability directive and a new European Union chemicals policy.

Danish officials have picked out an accord on emissions trading as a crucial target for their first council meeting in October. One official told reporters, “It’s very important to get an effective climate trading system to work for external and internal reasons”.

Denmark is an enthusiastic supporter of the European Commission’s emissions trading proposal, having been responsible for introducing Europe’s first, albeit modest, emissions trading system. However, it will need to work hard to overcome objections from Germany, the UK and Finland.

Another goal for the first meeting is a deal on traceability of genetically modified organisms and labelling rules, to coincide with the entry into force of the newly revised deliberate release directive. Denmark’s position on this issue – that new products cannot be commercialised before traceability and labelling are in place – has survived its recent change of government.

Copenhagen is keen to finalise talks on an EU liability regime for environmental damage. “I find it very important that European policy on the environment is based on the polluter pays principle,” said Danish Environment Minister Hans Christian Schmidt. “Therefore, at European level we must establish a whole new set of rules on environmental liability.”

However, the Danes have admitted that a full EU-wide liability regime is unlikely as Member States are still far from agreement on some basic points and the European Parliament has only just begun its deliberations.

Furthermore, while Denmark has highlighted ‘action on chemicals’ as a priority and scheduled a public ministerial debate on the issue for its December council meeting to pressure the Commission into proposing draft legislation following a white paper last year, this too looks unlikely. Instead, Denmark may have to be content with brokering an agreement on rules for implementing the Rotterdam convention on trade in hazardous substances.

Despite the expected lack of progress, environmental groups are expected to welcome the Danes, following six months of Spanish presidency in which they insisted on EU support for Spain’s own national Hydrological Plan. This was despite unprecedented protests both within Spain and throughout Europe over the proposed gigantic water transfer scheme that will have major negative impacts on biodiversity, and which is likely to contravene EU water legislation.

The largest federation of European Environmental organisations, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) observed that it was “clearly astonishing” that within Spain itself, no dialogue at all took place between environmental organisations and the government on issues related to the Presidency.

The EEB also expressed disappointment in the outgoing Spanish Presidency saying, “For Sustainable Development, Barcelona was a failure”.

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