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IP/07/970

Brussels/Luxembourg, 28 June 2007

Environment: Commission welcomes Council agreements

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas welcomed the agreements reached by today's Environment Council. The Council reached political agreement on revising the EU's basic waste legislation, limiting emissions of hazardous substances to water and banning exports of mercury from the EU. Commissioner Dimas also welcomed the Council's conclusions on giving a new impetus to EU environment policy, and on reducing CO2 emissions from cars.

Commissioner Dimas said: "I congratulate the German presidency on a very productive Council meeting and a very successful presidency for the environment. Today's political agreements on waste, emissions to water and mercury constitute important progress towards strengthening environmental protection in Europe and globally. The conclusions approved by Council also give us a solid basis for our work in several areas over the next year or so."

Waste framework directive

The political agreement on the first reading of the revision of the Waste Framework Directive includes many of the changes put forward by the Commission in its December 2005 proposal (see IP/05/1673). Key aspects include:

  • Concrete action on waste prevention, with a commitment from Member States to deliver national waste prevention programmes and benchmark the progress they make.
  • A clear five-step 'hierarchy' of waste management options, starting with prevention of waste as the environmentally preferred option, followed by reuse of products, recycling/composting, recovery of energy by incineration, and with disposal in landfill as the least favoured option. The hierarchy is to be applied flexibly to deliver the best environmental result.
  • Improvements to the definition of waste to make it clearer and easier to apply. This includes notably a new mechanism to set criteria for determining when certain wastes, such as compost or aggregates from construction and demolition waste, should cease to be considered as waste.

The new directive will replace three other directives: the existing Waste Framework Directive, the Hazardous Waste Directive and the Waste Oils Directive. It is substantially simpler and clearer than the existing texts, removes a number of redundant provisions and tightens up articles that have an important impact on environmental protection.

The Commission welcomes the fact that agreement was found on the difficult issue of the classification of municipal waste incinerators.

Water quality standards

The Commission welcomes the political agreement on water quality standards which will reinforce the Water Framework Directive, the cornerstone of the European Union's water protection policy. The agreement endorses the core elements of the Commission proposal (see IP/06/1007), including environmental quality standards and the phasing out of certain substances. The new directive will establish limits for concentrations of substances such as pesticides, heavy metals and biocides found in surface water.

The Council has introduced an alternative approach to monitoring water quality standards which involves measuring concentrations of substances found in the sediment, and plants and organisms living in bodies of water. This approach provides the same level of protection and safeguards as the method of monitoring surface water proposed by the Commission.

Mercury

Political agreement was also reached on a regulation banning the export of mercury from the European Union. The agreement retains the original scope of the Commission's proposal (see IP/06/1481) and ensures that mercury which is no longer used in the chlor-alkali, non-ferrous metal production, and natural gas cleaning industries is safely stored when the export prohibition takes effect in July 2011.

The Commission is looking forward to developing ways for the definitive storage of metallic mercury in adapted salt mines and deep hardrock formations. The Commission is convinced that long-term storage of mercury can be conducted safely provided appropriate storage facilities are used and rigorous safety requirements are followed.


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