At the end of March, the first EEB test will be on the European Summit. In the middle of the Presidency, Europe’s leaders will decide on how to accelerate the EU’s efforts to become the most competitive economy in the world by 2010, the so-called Lisbon process (see related story).

“Industry federations have been campaigning for a narrow pro-growth agenda, for the environmental ‘burdens’. This approach has gained some political support, but it would be disastrous for the EU and the rest of the world,” secretary general of the EEB, John Hontelez stated.

“The EEB is therefore encouraged by statements of representatives of the Luxembourg government, and in particular its Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, that it sees the way forward in encouraging greater synergy between economy, social affairs and the environment.”

However, EEB policy director Stefan Scheuer said this needed concrete, meaningful actions like the promotion of eco-innovation, including through green public procurement and the reform of taxation and subsidy policies.

“The EU has only limited power in those policies,” Mr Scheuer pointed out. “Governments should stop blaming Brussels and act themselves. Public authorities alone spend 16% of Europe’s GDP. If a part of this money was attached to green criteria, the environment and innovative business would benefit significantly.”

Like other environmental organisations, the EEB also demands a clear orientation on further reduction of greenhouse gases after the Kyoto-period (see related story), calling for a short-term (2020) target of 30%, and a long-term (2050) reduction target of 80%.

As the Luxembourg Presidency aims to finalise the discussions on the financing of the EU between 2007 and 2013, the EEB calls for sustainable development and environmental policy integration as a requirement for all EU spending (see related story), as well as a €3 billon-per-year sponsorship of the EU’s biodiversity policy.

Furthermore, the EEB has specific demands on a number of environmental issues, where the Luxembourg Presidency could make a difference, including chemicals policy, groundwater protection, waste shipments, air pollution from ships and mercury.

With regards to chemicals, the EEB expects the new Presidency to set the agenda for improving REACH (see related story) in order to make chemical producers responsible for the safety of their products and put an end to global chemical contamination.

A phase-out of mercury use has also been suggested by the bureau, as well as preventing the export of mercury to developing countries, and for groundwater it insists on strict pollution prevention to ensure that future generations have safe supplies of natural drinking water.

Pertaining to rural development, the final test wants agri-environmental measures to be a guaranteed part of rural development plans.

An assessment of the Luxembourg Presidency’s performance will be published at the end of its six-month term by the bureau. The EEB has been putting environmental benchmarks to Presidencies since 1998.

By Jane Kettle

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