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Brussels, 26 February 2009

Preparation Environment Council, 2 March 2009

The first Environment Council under the Czech Presidency will take place in Brussels on 2 March. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas will represent the European Commission. The Council will hold a public debate on streamlining legislation governing industrial pollution, and aims to adopt conclusions on climate change and put forward contributions on a number of other issues to the Spring European Council meeting later in March. It will consider proposals to repeal safeguard measures by Austria and Hungary on the cultivation of genetically modified maize varieties. Ministers are also expected to reach an EU position on whaling.

Climate change

The Council aims to adopt conclusions further developing the EU position on a comprehensive post-2012 climate change agreement, which is due to be concluded at the UN climate conference in December in Copenhagen. The draft conclusions prepared by the Presidency are based on the Communication adopted by the Commission on 28 January, which addresses the emission targets and actions required to keep global warming to less than 2°C above the pre-industrial temperature and proposes ways to finance the Copenhagen agreement (see IP/09/141).

Discussions are likely to focus on two issues. One is the criteria that should be used to assess the comparability of emission reduction efforts by developed countries under the Copenhagen agreement. The other concerns ways in which additional finance could be raised by developed countries to help developing countries address their emissions and adapt to climate change.

The climate conclusions will be attached to the Environment Council’s contribution to the Spring European Council (see below).

Industrial emissions

Ministers will hold a public debate on the Commission's proposal for a directive on industrial emissions, presented in December 2007 (see IP/07/1985 and MEMO/07/623). The proposal seeks to tackle the shortcomings of current legislation on industrial emissions, especially the issuing of permits under the directive. It merges seven directives, including the directive on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC), into one and streamlines certain provisions. The proposal would tighten minimum emission limits in certain industrial sectors, introduce standards for environmental inspections and make the review of operating permits more effective.

The Presidency proposes structuring the debate around four sets of questions. These concern:

  1. Whether the role of BAT Reference Documents (BREFs) in the permitting process for industrial installations should be strengthened, and the extent to which emissions levels associated with Best Available Techniques (BAT) as described in BREFs should be met;
  2. Whether further EU-level minimum requirements should be set for specific industrial activities;
  3. Whether emissions from large combustion plants should be brought into line with current BAT by 2016, while allowing transitional flexibility until 2020;
  4. Whether ministers support the extension of the directive to smaller combustion plants.

Genetically modified organisms

The Council is asked to take decisions on three Commission proposals for repealing safeguard clauses by Austria and Hungary on the cultivation of two genetically modified (GM) varieties of maize:

  • MON810 – Hungary: In February 2007 the Council rejected a Commission proposal to repeal Hungary's safeguard clause on this GM maize. Hungary subsequently submitted four studies on the effects of MON810 on the environment which the Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to assess. In July 2008 EFSA concluded that the studies contained no new data that would justify prohibiting cultivation of MON810 in Hungary. The Commission has therefore resubmitted its proposal to the Council for decision. Hungary has since circulated a letter referring to a series of studies that indicate adverse effects of MON810 on the environment in Hungary which it believes justify maintaining the safeguard measure.
  • MON810 and T25 – Austria: In December 2006 the Council rejected a Commission proposal to repeal Austria's safeguard clause on, inter alia, the cultivation of GM maizes MON810 and T25. In November 2007 Austria submitted new evidence to support its safeguard measures on cultivation which the Commission asked EFSA to assess. EFSA concluded in December 2008 that "the scientific evidence currently available does not sustain the arguments provided by Austria and that cultivation of maize MON810 and T25 is unlikely to have an adverse effect on human and animal health and the environment in Austria". On this basis the Commission has submitted to the Council two separate proposals for decisions to repeal the safeguard clause applying to each type of maize.

Contribution to the Spring European Council

The Environment Council is one of six Council formations that are providing contributions to the Spring European Council on 19-20 March in the form of conclusions.

Ministers aim to adopt conclusions covering five main areas: the Commission's European Economic Recovery Plan; sustainable consumption and production; environmental technologies; natural resources, waste and recycling; and biodiversity.

The specific conclusions on climate change (see above) will be attached to these general conclusions.


Ministers are expected to adopt a decision, based on a Commission proposal, allowing for a strong and united EU position in negotiations on the future of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The draft decision, which covers the next three IWC annual meetings, confirms the EU's strong stance against commercial whaling and calls for an end to scientific whaling outside of IWC control. The aim is to push for comprehensive international rules governing all whaling activities, which should ensure that fewer whales are killed in future.

Any other business

Any other business items will include a Presidency information note on addressing the fall in demand for recycled materials; presentation by the Commission of its proposals for revising the directives on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and on the reduction of hazardous substances in such products (RoHS) (IP/08/1878); and presentation by the Commission of its mid-term review of the Biodiversity Action Plan (IP/08/1988).

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