Europe drops green agenda to put life back into industry
By Anthony Browne, Brussels Correspondent
ENVIRONMENTAL groups have been angered by a decision by the European Commission to shelve its long-term environmental strategy because of concerns that it would constrict Europes economy and destroy too many jobs.
In an unprecedented change of direction in EU policy, José Manuel Barroso, the President of the Commission, ordered the suspension of the air-pollution strategy after he saw an assessment that showed that although it would help to prevent 350,000 premature deaths annually, it would cost businesses and consumers nearly 15 billion (£10 billion) a year.
After a fractious meeting between pro-environmentalist and pro-business commissioners, Senhor Barroso ordered a review of six other strategies due out shortly, on water quality, waste, soil, natural resources, pesticides and the urban environment. The strategies, which have taken years to prepare, propose detailed environmental policies that would have entailed a series of new regulations.
There has to be a balance between the benefits for the environment and the overall costs, Françoise Le Bail, his spokeswoman, said, adding that the problems were not the reports objectives, but more the way they are implemented.
Senhor Barroso, an economic liberal, had previously made clear that he thought the European Union was already doing well on protecting the environment and needed instead to pay more attention to boosting its economy.
The shelving of the environment strategies marks a triumph for the British Government, which has called on the Commission to stop producing regulations that damage businesses. An impact assessment had suggested that the air- pollution strategy alone would cost between 5.9 billion and 14.9 billion a year from 2020.
Senhor Barroso was supported by Günter Verheugen, the Industry Commissioner, and Charlie McCreevy, the Internal Market Commissioner; Peter Mandelson, the Trade Commissioner, is thought to be sympathetic. One Commission official said: The more you curb pollution, the greater the costs and the less the benefits. This has to be seen in the context of the Commission programme to relaunch the economy.
It is a humiliating defeat for Stavros Dimas, the Environment Commissioner, who, hours before Senhor Barroso had shelved the strategies, said that they were ready to be announced. One of his officials said: We are disappointed. But we have support from a number of commissioners.
Campaigners fear that the environment is being sacrificed as the Commission responds to growing political tension over the EUs 20 million jobless total. Tony Long, director of European policy at the World Wide Fund for Nature, said: Its very worrying. The political signal is that the environment is not a priority for this Commission. Its as though everything that smacks of green policy is bad.
The WWF, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace issued a joint letter advising the Commission not to cave in to powerful business lobby interests.
Senhor Barroso ordered an orientation debate for the Commission to agree the direction of environmental policy. Mme Le Bail said: The Commission had not discussed the environment. It is a subject on which the President wants to find a consensus. The Commission said that it had not cancelled its strategies, merely suspended them before the debate.