July 20, 2005

EU Commission to press ahead on environment

By Jeff Mason

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union executive said
Wednesday it would press ahead with several environmental
initiatives this year despite industry concern about high

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and his
commissioners debated overall environmental policy Wednesday, a
move activists had feared could kill a series of strategies on
issues such as air pollution and recycling for being too

The president's spokeswoman said the commissioners
supported the strategies and Environment Commissioner Stavros
Dimas would start presenting them after the group's summer

"The Commission has decided to forge ahead and it does
indeed intend to adopt these strategies," Francoise Le Bail
told a news conference after the debate.

"The environment will remain a central policy subject for
the Commission."

An air pollution strategy was put on hold before the
debate, calling into question proposals on pesticides, marine
environment, sustainable use of resources, waste prevention and
recycling, soil quality and urban environmental management.

Environmental groups said the delay risked damaging the
European Union's reputation as a leader on green issues.

European business group UNICE has questioned whether the
projected costs of the air pollution strategy alone would be
worth the expected benefits.

The Commission predicts the initiative will cost 12 billion
euros ($14.49 billion) a year from 2020, though environment
chief Dimas says the benefits, including illness prevention,
would be four times that amount.

Le Bail said the Commission did not see a contradiction
between respecting the environment and boosting the economy.

She said each strategy would be scrutinised later this
year, but declined to say whether costs would be cut -- which
environmentalists fear would make the policies weaker.

"The question was not to water down anything," Le Bail

The EU is well known for its leadership on the environment.
But high unemployment and stagnant economies in some member
states have fueled calls by some political and business leaders
to cut down on costs to big employers.

Environmental groups WWF, Greenpeace, IFAW and Seas at Risk
said they were concerned about the "cautious approach" taken
toward the strategies and said they feared the marine strategy
in particular would be watered down to pacify industry.
($1=.8283 Euro)