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News Report
Parliament and Council agree strict new air pollution limits
Echelon: the risk is there - precautions are needed

Brussels, 9 July 2001

Parliament and Council agree strict new air pollution limits

Parliament's delegation to the Conciliation Committee voted unanimously in Strasbourg on Tuesday 3 July to endorse an agreement, struck with Council after two years of negotiations, on rigorous new air quality rules for the EU. The rules will reduce acid rain and smog by setting tough limits on emissions from large power stations and strict overall ceilings to be met by the Member States for four key pollutants. The agreement also sets 2020 as the long-term benchmark date for cleaning up Europe's air.

The way to the agreement was opened at the end of what Ingo FRIEDRICH (EPP-ED, D), leader of Parliament's negotiating team, described as "one of the most difficult conciliations ever", when the final hurdles, concerning exemptions from the tough new limits on nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions from older, mainly coal-burning, power plants operating at peak times, and the long-term target date for reducing the health risks caused by air pollution, were cleared last week.

The resulting package deal comprises agreements between the Parliament and Council delegations on two separate but linked proposals for directives, both of which were approved unanimously by the Parliament delegation. The first directive concerns emissions of three noxious substances belched into the air by large combustion plants: nitrogen oxide (NOX), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and dust. The second covers overall national emission ceilings for four key pollutants responsible for acidification, ground-level ozone and soil eutrophication, namely sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia.

For large combustion plants, Parliament has scored a major victory, hailed by rapporteur Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN (EPP-ED, NL) as the best aspect of the deal, by securing the stringent limit value, for nitrogen oxide emissions (from solid fuel plants), of 200 mg/Nm3 to apply from 2016. This limit will be a crucial benchmark in negotiations with the Eastern European candidate countries. Parliament was instrumental in ensuring that existing plants, as well as new ones, will be covered by the new legislation. It fought tenaciously during the talks to ensure that the exemptions demanded by Council for older, dirtier plants were not too generous. It wanted a clear cut-off date for them whilst Council battled to keep them indefinitely, fearing that the new rules would force these power stations, and the mines dependent on them, to close, leading to major job losses.

Under the final compromise deal, large power stations operating at peak times for a maximum of two to three months a year will be exempt from the 200 mg/Nm3 limit but will be subject to increasingly tough restrictions applied in stages from 2008 to 2016 and a firm commitment by the Commission to propose end dates for the concession. An exemption for anthracite power plants (concerning the UK and Spain) will end in 2018.

Another victory for Parliament is the inclusion, in the directive on national emission ceilings, of 2020 as the benchmark date for achieving the long-term goal of not exceeding critical limits and of protecting people against the health risks caused by air pollution. 2010 is the interim target date for attaining binding limits set for each Member State and, in a further success highlighted by rapporteur Riitta MYLLER (PES, S), an ambitious review clause requires the Commission to assess progress in achieving indicative figures set for the Community as a whole by 2010 and to propose measures to attain them if necessary. A further achievement by Parliament, described as "quite remarkable" by Mrs Myller, is that the Commission must examine the pollution caused by aviation and shipping and propose measures to reduce it.

The full House will vote on the package at the Brussels part-session on 19-20 September.

03.07.2001 Conciliation Committee (Environment)
       In the chair: Ingo FRIEDRICH (EPP-ED, D)

Press enquiries:
Mary Brazier - tel. (32-2) 28 42672
e-mail: envi-press@europarl.eu.int

Echelon: the risk is there - precautions are needed

The Temporary Committee on the Echelon Interception System (chair: Carlos COELHO, EPP-ED, P) voted on 3 July on a draft motion for a resolution (rapporteur: Gerhard SCHMID, PES, D) to wind up the work it has carried out over the last year. The text was adopted by 27 votes to 5 with 2 abstentions. The representatives of three groups (Greens/EFA, EUL/NGL and TGI) announced their intention to table a minority opinion when the motion for a resolution is debated in plenary in September.

The first task of the committee, as laid down in its mandate, was to verify the existence of this interception system. While there is no formal proof, the committee says that in view of the evidence and the many statements which tally with each other, including some from American sources, the existence of a global system for intercepting communications, "operating with the participation of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand under the UK-USA Agreement, is no longer in doubt". The same is true of the use to which Echelon is put, namely "to intercept private and commercial communications, and not military communications". While the capabilities of the system are not nearly as extensive as some sections of the media have assumed, say MEPs, it is worrying that many senior Community figures who gave evidence to the committee, "including European Commissioners", claimed to be unaware of the system.

The committee's second task was to verify whether the system is compatible with Community law. The text adopted distinguishes between legitimate intelligence gathering and the use of such a system to spy on business communications. In the latter case, any Member State participating in the system would be violating EU law. While the committee did not unearth any evidence that, as is often maintained, the global interception system is used to distort business competition, the motion for a resolution states that according to information obtained in the USA "5% of intelligence gathered through non-open sources is used for economic intelligence" and that "this intelligence surveillance could enable US industry to earn up to 7 billion dollars in terms of contracts". The resolution points out that since sensitive data are mostly kept inside individual firms, other methods of espionage are generally used (by having people planted in a firm or by hacking into computer networks). Only if sensitive data are transmitted externally can communications surveillance be effective. In this connection the resolution calls on the Member States and the US government "to start an open US-EU dialogue on economic intelligence gathering".

The mandate also covers the issue of privacy and the possibility for the committee to propose political or legislative initiatives. In this connection the committee calls on the Member States to provide all European citizens with the same legal guarantees concerning the protection of privacy. The Member States are also urged to ensure that their legislation on the operations of their intelligence services is consistent with the European Human Rights Convention and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. In addition, says the committee, they should endow themselves with binding instruments which afford effective protection against all forms of illegal interception of their communications.

The motion for a resolution argues that all the national parliaments should have a body responsible for scrutinising the activities of the intelligence services. In addition the Member States should pool their communications interception resources with a view to enhancing the effectiveness of the ESDP in the areas of intelligence gathering and the fight against terrorism "subject to monitoring by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission". In addition Germany and the UK are asked to make the authorisation of any further communications interception operations on their territory by US intelligence services conditional on certain requirements.

The committee stresses the importance of fostering awareness of security problems among the public and companies so that they understand the potential risks and the need to protect themselves against the danger of having their communications intercepted. A number of practical proposals are made to this end. For example the Commission and the Member States are urged to support the development of European encryption software. The Commission is asked to take a range of measures: to have a security analysis carried out, to update its encryption system, to ensure that data is protected in its own data processing systems and to improve the protection of secrecy in relation to documents not accessible to the public. Lastly the Commission is requested to put forward a proposal to establish, in close cooperation with industry and the Member States, a European-wide and coordinated network of advisory centres to deal with issues relating to the security of information held by firms, with the twin task of increasing awareness of the problem and providing practical assistance. Companies themselves are urged to cooperate more closely with counter-espionage services and particularly to inform them of any suspected attacks from outside.

03.07.2001 Temporary Committee on Echelon
       In the chair: Carlos COELHO (EPP-ED, P)
       Rapporteur. Gerhard SCHMID (PES, D)

Press enquiries:
Patrick Baragiola - tel. (32-2) 28 43251
e-mail: directinfo@europarl.eu.int

Last updated: 9 July 2001Legal notice