Sweden hands over EU Presidency to Belgium as a hard act to follow environmentally

Belgium has assumed the Presidency of the European Union, promising to be more conciliatory than its predecessor with the US on climate change and to give substance to a strategy on sustainable development.

Belgium assumed the Presidency on 1 July and has promised to place the environment at the forefront of policy which it will guide until 31 December. Sweden, however, promises to be a hard act to follow, after citing environmental protection as one of its three principal aims (see related story), and has been considered successful on its hardline attitude to climate change and in its strict chemicals proposals (see related story).

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has already hinted at a softer position on the US refusal to implement the Kyoto Protocol (see related story), saying that Belgium would try “everything in its power” to involve the Americans, and persuade the EU, not to stay in its “corner”.

A major priority for the Belgians, Verhofstadt said, would be implementing the sustainable development strategy, complete with objectives and indicators (see related story), which has been much criticised by the EC Environment Commissioner and NGOs for a lack of specific actions.

Other environmental priorities for Belgium include revising the 1994 packaging directive and implementing a new one on the green design of electronic equipment as well as emissions from pleasure boats and nickel and cadmium emissions.

The federation of European environmental NGOs, has assessed the Swedish Presidency as positive, “even though many of the achievements fall short of the ambitions”. “The highlight of the Swedish Presidency is the Environment Council’s strong support of a far-reaching chemicals policy reform,” it said.

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