Real improvements in European environment part of EU five-year plan

Romano Prodi, leader of the European Commission, has announced the body's key objectives for the period 2000-2005. The environment is singled out as one of four areas of priority.

Under the aegis of working toward ‘a better quality of life’ for Europe’s citizens, Prodi says the EU should work toward full integration of environmental aims into all sectors of the economy. In addition, the Commission would like to see “tangible results in Europe and the world at large regarding the environmental commitments entered into at Kyoto and fresh efforts to combat climate change”. Specific mention is made of the Rio+10 meeting as offering the world a chance to work toward “a global sustainable development strategy”.

The EC also expects to improve, extend and fully implement environmental legislation, with food safety and the environmental damage caused by transport given special emphasis.

Prodi is adamant that the years 2000 to 2005 will see the EU add to its member countries and become a stronger international force. But the EU leader is equally determined that the negative effects of globalisation be identified in advance and prevented or mitigated as much as possible. “The Europe we want will be a Europe that heeds the warnings of globalisation. The [globalisation] process has turned out to be exclusive rather than inclusive and has widened the inequalities between countries and between social categories and regions within them,” states the EC. “The emergence of global actors with global strategies can have the effect of marginalising democratic mechanisms and jeopardising policies for sustainable development.”

Speaking in Berlin, EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström outlined how the Environment Directorate General is planning its activities. She began by reminding her audience that an assessment of European environmental progress has shown that “despite some positive results, in general the quality of our environment is not improving” (see related story), and that “if we continue on our current course … then we must expect a further deterioration by 2010”.

Wallström said her department will publish an outline of the EU’s Sixth Environment Programme in the autumn and that she expects both improved enforcement of existing legislation and new policy to be forthcoming. Member states’ failure to implement the Habitats Directive fully was given special mention as was the need for tighter regulations on GM crop approvals.

Although industry will have to continue to improve its environmental performance, Wallström acknowledged the need for ordinary citizens to make lifestyle changes. “Without more ownership and responsibility for the environment and without changes in lifestyles, we will not be able to reach our environmental objectives,” she said.

On the subject of climate change, Wallström restated the EU’s determination to seek final agreement on all outstanding aspects of the Kyoto Protocol by the end of this year in order to allow for ratification in 2001. She argued that Kyoto targets are but a first step and that energy efficiency will remain a focus for years to come. “We have to make energy more expensive to provide incentives for better energy efficiency, and we have to reduce the fiscal and social security charges on labour in order to create jobs,” she said. “We cannot continuously talk about changing our lifestyles and [then] protest when we are asked to undertake the first small steps.”

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