European business briefs: Environmental funding in Ireland, Soil strategy needed, Spain’s oil spill precautions, Voluntary waste regulations, Dutch dioxin scare

Announcing record funding for his Department, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dick Roche TD, stated that the money his Department was investing was "bringing real continued improvement to our quality of life". The Minister was speaking on the occasion of the publication of the estimates, which showed a net estimate of almost ¬2.5 billion for the department. Much of the cash will be spent on combating climate change, improving Ireland's water and wastewater infrastructure, and invested in waste infrastructure and the Environment Fund.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has congratulated the Dutch EU Presidency and the European Commission for organising a conference discussing next steps for a European Soil Strategy, but is worried about slow progress. Europe’s Sixth Environmental Action Programme requests a Soil Strategy by June 2005, including legislative measures. The Commission has failed to deliver its promise to propose such measures by 2004 and shows very little ambition in putting a serious soil policy in place, although the technical work has been largely and successfully concluded. ‘Soil protection is one of the biggest gaps in Europe’s environmental policy, leading to huge environmental problems and costs for citizens,’ said Stefan Scheuer, EEB Policy Director. ‘The EU must show leadership and urgency in closing this gap. We insist that legislation setting ambitious quantitative targets and timetables is presented before June 2005, to ensure the protection of the multiple functions of soils and contribute to achieving EU’s climate and biodiversity protection commitments.’

Spain’s Development Ministry has announced that it wants to acquire three aircraft specially equipped to fight oil spills like the Prestige disaster that soiled the northwest Spanish coastline in 2002. The three planes, which are budgeted at around €28 million each, would be similar to the European CN-235, according to the ministry. The country will also seek to acquire three helicopters, which will be used to combat maritime pollution and will cost around €11 million each, but a decision still has to be made as to who the supplier will be.

“The continued and unfettered growth in waste across all sectors in our society is no longer sustainable and must be reversed in the longer term to better protect our environment for the generations to come,” Batt O’Keeffe, TD, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government announced this week in Cork at an information seminar to promote a unique voluntary construction industry initiative aimed at the prevention, minimisation and recycling of construction and demolition (C&D) waste. It is envisaged that the voluntary initiative will build on the substantial progress already made on managing waste in the construction industry. Ireland is now the first EU country to apply a voluntary approach to dealing with the management of construction and demolition waste, which will allow the industry an opportunity to initially self regulate and in the longer term to agree on what legislation and regulations should be developed and enforced going forward.

And finally, Dutch authorities this week re-opened 96 livestock farms out of nearly 200 that had sealed off as a precaution after discovering cancer-causing dioxin in animal feed. The dioxin scare has spread to Germany, Belgium, France and Spain in the past two weeks, but along with the EU, Dutch health officials have ruled out any risk to public health, saying that contaminated products had not actually been able to reach any consumers. However, around 100 pig, cattle, sheep and goat farms will remain shut until all the tests have been completed, hopefully some time next week according to the Dutch Farm Ministry.

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