Belgium's EU Presidency has to live up to the challenge of leadership | WWF

Belgium's EU Presidency has to live up to the challenge of leadership

Posted on 02 July 2001
Brussels, Belgium - This month Belgium takes over the Presidency of the European Union for the next half-year. It does so at a time when Europe needs to show leadership on big environmental issues such as tackling climate change and reforming the EU�s own disastrous agricultural and fisheries policies.

From an environmental point of view, Belgium has a tough task in following up from the Swedish Presidency that culminated with the European Union adopting a �sustainable development strategy� at the Gothenburg Summit of EU Heads of Government in June 2001.

Belgium does not enjoy the �green� reputation of a Scandinavian country like its Presidency predecessor Sweden. In fact, Belgium�s environmental record is not impressive:

Heavy dependence on nuclear energy - over half of Belgium�s electricity production is nuclear, higher than any European country apart from France.

Poor levels of forest protection despite custody of one of Europe�s most famous forested areas, the Ardennes.

Belgium has the highest surface area of human construction (buildings, roads etc) per inhabitant of any EU country - arguably showing that Belgium gives least space for nature.

Furthermore, Sweden�s achievements inevitably leave Belgium with a heavy environmental workload to take forward. Belgium will lead the EU at a time when some key environmental issues will be on the global and European political agenda. These include:

The Bonn climate change negotiations from 16-27 July, aimed at reaching agreement on finalising rules for the Kyoto protocol without the United States.

Preparatory work by the European Commission, and informal discussions between member states, on reform of the Union�s farming and fishing policies.

WTO negotiations in November in Qatar - where the future of agricultural subsidies is on the agenda,fishing subsidies may be put on the agenda and there will have to be debate on the link between WTO rules and international environmental agreements.

The European Union must show leadership on these issues,and it is up to Belgium to show what it can do. Again Sweden performed impressively in persuading the European Union to stand its ground on tackling climate change as George W. Bush took the US out of the Kyoto Protocol.

Despite Belgium�s unimpressive environmental record, the environment features prominently in the Government�s aims for the Presidency. The '' improvement of sustainable development'' is one of six �thematic guidelines� outlined by the Belgian Government for its Presidency of the EU.

Specifically, the Belgian Government promises to:

Make special efforts to get Europe to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Take forward the EU�s sustainable development strategy.

Focus on the 6th Environmental Action Plan.

Encourage the integration of environmental policy and sustainable development in other policy sectors.

Promote a reorientation of the EU�s farming policies towards sustainable agriculture.

Give priority to reducing the environmental impact of transport.

Develop environmental commitments for the liberalisaiton of the energy market and seek agreement on energy taxation to tackle air pollution and global warming.

WWF welcomes these commitments and believes they represent some of the most urgent tasks facing the European Union. WWF�s believes that the environmental priorities for the Belgian Presidency can be achieved through three key actions:

European agreement to kick-start the ratification and implementation of the Kyoto protocol regardless of the US, and building alliances with Eastern Europe, Japan and Russia for the Kyoto Protocal to enter into force by the Rio +10 Earth Summit in 2002.

Vigorous follow up of the sustainable development strategy and the so-called �Cardiff� or �integration� process - in particular to ensure that they are applied to new legislation such as the public procurement directive due to be agreed during the Belgian Presidency, to the accession process and to the EU�s external relations policies.

Progress on finding consensus for radical, green reform of the Union�s farming and fishing policies.

There are some additional tasks that WWF urges the Belgian Presidency to undertake for the benefit of Europe�s environment, these include:

Major steps towards finalising the �natura 2000� network of areas to be protected under the Habitats Directive.

Kick off implementation of the Water Framework Directive - a far reaching European law that requires significant and much-needed investment to revive and restore Europe�s rivers, lakes and wetlands.

There are also some domestic national actions the Belgian government needs to take to give credibility to its European leadership role. Specifically Belgium must adopt its own National Climate Plan and stick to its proposed 7.5 per cent cut in emissions. It should also complete the full and correct transposition of the Habitats Directive into national and regional law, and finalise the selection of sites for protection under that Directive, especially in Wallonia. Finally, Belgium could be a role model if it achieved early adoption of the Water Framework Directive into national and regional law.

Belgium is a small country that can have a big, positive impact on the world�s environment over the next six months - WWF wishes Belgium every success in seizing that opportunity.