The negotiations between the two institutions concerned two pieces of legislation: a regulation on fluorinated gases covered by the Kyoto protocol and a less controversial directive on emissions from air conditioning systems in motor vehicles.
Limited exemptions, subject to revision
Parliament had argued that Member States should be allowed to preserve existing stricter measures - e.g. countries such as Denmark and Austria - or to adopt them if they wish - Sweden is apparently planning to do so - to enable them meet their commitments under the Kyoto protocol, in line with the provisions on environment policy laid down in Articles 175 and 176 of the EC Treaty.
The Council, however, wanted a cut-off date for these exemptions - 31 December 2012 - so as not to disrupt the internal market, in line with Article 95 (approximation of legislation). MEPs accepted this date but only on condition that there will be a clause allowing for revision in the light of any measures taken by the Union and its Member States pursuant to existing or future international commitments.
This had been the sticking point since the beginning. Now it has been resolved. "With this agreement we have reached a good balance between environmental protection and the proper functioning of the single market", said rapporteur Avril DOYLE (EPP-ED, IE). "There is no reduction in the standards we wanted. Our agreement allows some Member States to maintain stricter measures and others to introduce such measures but under precise circumstances."
Information and labelling
Under the new legislation, appliances containing fluorinated gases can be placed on the market only if they bear a label indicating clearly and indelibly the chemical names of these gases and the quantity contained, and stating that they are covered by the Kyoto protocol. The instruction manuals accompanying the appliances must also indicate the potential impact of the gases on climate temperature. These gases can, depending on their chemical make-up, remain in the atmosphere for many years, or even centuries or millennia in some cases. The exact format of the label has yet to be decided and the Commission will decide later whether additional environmental information should be added.
Compromises were also reached on various matters relating to fixed equipment for air conditioning, refrigeration and fireproofing, on technical standards to be observed and the inspections to be carried out (standards which will also apply to imported appliances), on the training of maintenance staff, on the identification and inventories of equipment, and on the promotion of alternative technologies both for the equipment covered by the new regulation and for the mobile air conditioning appliances covered by the directive which was also part of the conciliation deal.
The representatives of the three institutions all welcomed the agreement. The invaluable preparatory work of rapporteur Avril Doyle was hailed unanimously and the importance for the three institutions of reaching an agreement was underlined. Antonios Trakatellis (EPP-ED, EL), head of the EP delegation, stated "This new regulation will help us meet our commitments under the Kyoto protocol and contribute to the fight against climate change. Europe is thus acting as a pioneer in the world".
"It was not a foregone conclusion", acknowledged Josef Pröll, Austrian Environment Minister, "but we arrived at a sensible solution which shows that Europe is still operational in the fight against climate change". Commissioner Stavros Dimas saw the agreement as "a clear and positive political signal" but added that the Commission will decide if a declaration needs to be issued at the point when the legislation is finally adopted.
This is the third conciliation procedure on an environmental issue to be completed in the last four months, following the directives on bathing water in October and mining waste in November, and probably just ahead of another on batteries and accumulators which is about to start. Two other conciliations were finalised recently: on optical radiation and on social legislation for road transport.