Spanish presidency called on to pass ten green tests

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has submitted an ambitious memorandum to the EU’s new Spanish presidency, containing a wish-list of green improvements for the next six months and ten ‘green tests’ - actions and milestones it expects the presidency to achieve during this period.

Among the issues raised in the tests are actions for the Barcelona Summit in March and the critical Johannesburg (Rio +10) Earth Summit in September. Effective new agreements promoting sustainability within the EU, an effective methodology for sustainability impact assessment and strengthening of environmental policy integration in the EU Council are seen as landmark outcomes for Barcelona. “We call upon the Spanish Presidency to ensure that sustainable development will have a high profile at the Barcelona Summit,” the memorandum notes.

In the run-up to Johannesburg, the EEB wants the presidency to facilitate a critical assessment of how the EU’s external policies can contribute to sustainable development in developing countries. The Bureau also wants the administration to promote, at a global level, in the preparatory meetings for Johannesburg, a ‘global deal’, as outlined at the Gothenburg summit in 2001, between industrialised and developing countries.

The mandate also calls on the Spanish presidency to promote a rigid policy on EU pre-accession funds – it urges an insistence that no funds be given to activities that could have a negative environmental impact. It also wants the process of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to be completed in time for the Johannesburg summit. EEB Secretary General John Hontelez said: “It now falls to Spain to ensure that the EU will deliver what it has been promising.”

The Bureau also, unusually, has broken its normal rules and included a test relating to a national situation, demanding a review of the Spanish National Hydrological Plan. The EEB has done so, it says, “because of the enormous scale of the project, the EU funding which it is seeking, and widespread national and international opposition to the project as it stands. The review is seen as a test case to demonstrate whether Spain and the EU are truly committed to sustainable development and nature conservation.” The Bureau also calls for there to be “no EU funding for the plan in its current form”.

The EEB is also taking the opportunity to modify its push for a directive on environmental liability, which it has been urging for the past ten years. To ensure the Directive is adequate, the EEB is asking for the scope of the proposed directive to be broadened, to include a reversal of the burden of proof and compulsory insurance provision.

The Bureau also issued its traditional ‘end of term’ verdict on the outgoing Belgian presidency, calling it ‘fairly positive’ on environmental issues in general, but pointing out that it had been obstructed in making real progress in several key areas.

The assessment states that although the EEB welcomed the spirit shown by the Belgian presidency towards environment-related issues, and hailed the open and flexible relationship extended by the presidency, progress was disappointing in real terms in several issues. It blamed weak performances from the Commission on issues such as transport and environment and fierce opposition from Member States on issues such as environmental tax reform for this lack of movement. It added: “However…the EEB feels that in some areas the presidency could have been more demanding towards the Commission.”

Successes in some of the Belgian ten test areas including climate change successes at Bonn and Marrakech, and the Belgian Government’s decision to join the bloc of countries with a moratorium on GMOs. It also praised some efforts by the presidency to criticise the trend in the Commission to water down policy on environmental liability.

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