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European Law Monitor newsEnvironment: Commission welcomes Council agreement on aviation, regrets failure on soil

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas welcomed the political agreement reached by today's Environment Council on including aircraft emissions in the EU emissions trading scheme. The Council however failed to reach an agreement on the day's other major issue: the new soil framework directive. Commissioner Dimas welcomed the Council's conclusions on the environment and health.

Commissioner Dimas said: "Having just returned from Bali, Environment ministers were acutely aware of the challenge ahead and the necessity to act. Today's political agreement on including aircraft in the emissions trading scheme sends an important signal about the EU's determination to put in place concrete measures to combat climate change." Of the failure to reach agreement on soil, he added: "I am very disappointed that, in spite of the enormous efforts of the Portuguese Presidency, the support of many Environment Ministers in today's Council, and the positive vote and large support from the European Parliament, the Council has not been able to reach a political agreement on the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive. This is a missed opportunity for the protection of the environment and the fight against climate change. I look forward to continuing working with the Council to achieve political agreement as soon as possible."

Aircraft emissions and the Emissions Trading Scheme

The Council position remains close to the Commission's original proposal of 20 December 2006 (IP/06/1862 and MEMO/06/506 ), and most of the changes are technical improvements. However, there are also changes of a more political nature, including:

       * The one-year introductory phase for intra-EU flights proposed by the Commission has been dropped, and the scheme will now become operational in a single phase, starting in 2012.
       * Emissions will be capped at 100 percent of the average level for the years 2004-2006.
       * The level of auctioning has been increased to 10 percent, and revenue from the auctioned allowances should be used to combat climate change.
       * An exemption has been introduced for operators with very low traffic levels on routes to, from or within the EU. Under this mechanism many operators from developing countries with only limited air traffic links with the EU will be exempt. This will not have a significant effect on the emissions covered by the scheme.
       * A special reserve of free allowances for new entrants or very fast-growing airlines has been added. While this was not contained in the original Commission, it was found to be acceptable as the reserve is taken from within the overall cap and does not therefore affect the environmental effect of the scheme.
       * A new mechanism to ensure consistent and robust enforcement throughout the EU has been introduced. As a last resort, Member States could ask for an operator to be banned from operating in the EU if it persistently has failed to comply with the scheme and other enforcement measures have proven ineffective.

The political agreement reached will now formally be adopted as a "common position" some time in 2008. It will then be sent to the European Parliament for a second reading.

Soil framework directive

The Soil Framework Directive is intended to set common principles and objectives at EU level, and would require Member States to adopt a systematic approach to identifying and combating soil degradation. The failure to adopt the directive was largely due to concerns about subsidiarity, with some Member States maintaining that soil was not a matter to be negotiated at the European level. Others felt that the cost of the directive would be too high, and that the burden of implementation would be too heavy.

Environment and health

The Commission also welcomed the Council Conclusions on Environment and Health, noting their usefulness for the further implementation of the Environment and Health Action Plan.

Background information
EU Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS):

The European Commission's original proposal to include aviation in the EU ETS: