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Brussels, 11 March 2011
Preparation Environment Council, 14 March 2011
The first Environment Council under the Hungarian Presidency will be held on 14 March in Brussels. Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli, and Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard will represent the European Commission. The Council will open with an attempt to reach a political agreement on the recast of the WEEE Directive. Ministers will then adopt Council conclusions on the review of the Community Strategy concerning Mercury. This will be followed by an exchange of views relating to the question of GMOs on the basis of a Presidency non-paper and questions, followed by a tour-de table. Views will then be exchanged on environmental aspects of the Common Agricultural Policy towards 2020. The day will also feature an exchange of views on the European Semester, and conclusions will be adopted on the follow-up to the Cancun Conference. Among the AOB points, the Commission will inform delegations about the state of the ETS registry, and Ministers will hear information from Denmark about proposals to ban parabens, information from Austria about plastic bags, and a presentation by the Commission of the Roadmap to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050.
The Council will open with an attempt to reach a political agreement on the recast of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, adopted by the Commission in 2008. Member States will attempt to reach agreement on outstanding issues, including the scope of the revised Directive (including the categories of EEE to be covered, exclusions, and related definitions), the level of ambition of the targets for separate collection of WEEE, targets for recovery and recycling, and ways to simplify rules and reduce the administrative burden. Discussions are likely to centre around the timescale for achieving new targets, and the need for stronger legislation to cover what is now the EU's fastest growing waste stream. These deliberations will be public.
In December 2010, the Commission presented a communication on the review of the Community Strategy Concerning Mercury, giving an overview of the progress in the implementation of all twenty actions covered by the Mercury Strategy of 2005. Ministers will adopt conclusions on the review, noting the work that remains to be done in areas such as reducing emissions, reducing supply, reducing demand, addressing surpluses and reservoirs, and protection against exposure. One outstanding issue remains a Swedish proposal to consider further legal action on the phase-out of all mercury-containing products.
International climate change negotiations
The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on the follow-up to last December's United Nations climate conference in Cancún, Mexico. The conference reached agreement on important elements of a future global framework for tackling climate change and paved the way for immediate action to be taken in a number of areas on the ground. The conclusions will stress the importance of all Parties fully implementing the Cancún Agreements without delay. They will also set out the EU's initial expectations for the Durban climate conference at the end of 2011 and the preparatory work that will need to be done over the course of this year to achieve balanced progress and robust results.
The Council will hear the Presidency's progress report on the proposal on GMO cultivation, which aims at giving Member States grounds to decide on GMO cultivation on their territories. To facilitate the discussions on the proposal, the Presidency has raised two questions to the Council. Both questions relate to the possible grounds on which the prohibition or restriction of cultivation of GMOs would be justified.
The Commission welcomes the fact that the Presidency and most Member States are willing to make progress in the ongoing Council discussions. The Presidency and an increasing number of Member States share the Commission's view that the ongoing implementation of the 2008 Environment Council Conclusions is crucial, but not a prerequisite, for discussing the current proposal and should run in parallel.
The Commission issued on 8 February an indicative list of possible grounds to restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation, which delivers on the commitment of Commissioner Dalli at the Environment Council on 20 December 2010 to provide Member States with such a list. The Commission remains convinced that the proposal provides a margin for national restrictions or bans, if duly justified. The Commission is willing to collaborate with the co-legislators to clarify and make more precise certain aspects of the proposal
The European Semester
The "European Semester" is a time-window in the first half of each year in which Member States reporting under the Stability and Growth Pact and under the Europe 2020 Strategy are aligned, and policy guidance and recommendations are given to Member States before national budgets are finalised. Ministers will discuss three questions presented by the Presidency, with a view to presenting their findings to the Spring European Council. Discussions will focus on statements made in relation to climate change and environment in the 2011 Annual Growth Survey, ways of achieving EU targets and ambitions for climate change in the light of the assessment contained in the Europe 2020 Progress Report, and the most urgent measures to be taken in the field of climate change and environment to ensure that the objectives of the Resource Efficiency flagship initiative are achieved.
The presidency has proposed an exchange of views on the environmental aspects of the CAP towards 2020, the blueprint for the reform for the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013 presented in a Commission Communication in November 2010. Ministers will share thoughts on how the future CAP could contribute to the delivery of specific environmental services and climate action objectives, and on how CAP subsidies could be developed to ensure that the main targets of environmental policy are also delivered.
Any other business
Any other business points include a presentation by Commissioner Hedegaard of the Roadmap to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050 adopted by the Commission on 8 March (see IP/11/272). No substantial discussion is expected at this meeting as the Roadmap will be on the agenda of the informal Environment Council meeting in Hungary on 26 March. Commissioner Hedegaard will also update ministers on the latest state of play regarding enhancing the security the operations of Member States' EU ETS registries and forthcoming Commission initiatives to strengthen registries' security. She will call on Member States to continue to provide adequate resources for, and attention to, registry security. The Danish delegation will inform delegations about endocrine disruptors and a ban on parabens, the Commission will provide information about the Communication on regional policy contributing to sustainable growth in Europe 2020, and the Austrian delegation will give information on measures concerning the use of plastic bags.
A press conference with Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Commissioner Janez Potočnik is foreseen on Monday 14 March at 15.00.