§ Dr. Gibson
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Environmental Council on 22 December 2003; what the Government's stance was on the discussion on the EU Chemical Regulation; and if she will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Morley
I attended the Environment Council on 22 December 2003, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The Council adopted a Regulation establishing a transitional points system applicable to heavy goods vehicles travelling through Austria for 2004 (known as `Ecopoints'), a matter previously dealt with by Transport ministers. Agreement had been reached between the Council and the European Parliament through the conciliation process, but there was a discussion in Council as Austria was unable to support the outcome. Council approved the result of the conciliation committee, with Austria voting against.
We held a short discussion on the proposed revision of the Directive on the management of bathing water. A compromise text prepared by the Presidency was unacceptable to the Commission and to a number of member states, including Germany, Greece and Spain, who believed it would produce an insufficiently demanding new Directive. The Secretary of State made it clear that the UK would be unable to agree to the legally binding targets to be reached by 2015, on which the Commission wished to insist. It was evident that there was no realistic prospect of reaching political agreement at this meeting, and the Italian Presidency decided to leave further negotiations to the forthcoming Irish Presidency.
We debated the Commission's proposals concerning the Kyoto Protocol's project mechanisms in relation to the EU scheme for greenhouse gas emissions trading. Ministers expressed their views on a number of questions posed by the Presidency. Most supported early linking to the Clean Development Mechanism, although views were divided on whether such linking could be made available prior to the Kyoto Protocol coming into force. There was also a range of views on the question of qualitative standards for projects, and on the use of sinks. The Secretary of State spoke in support of quantitative limits on the use of credits.
We agreed three sets of Council Conclusions: supporting the preparation of an EU strategy to reduce atmospheric emissions from seagoing ships; agreeing the EU's position for the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity, to be held in Kuala Lumpur in February; and noting the Commission's 2003 environment policy review.
The Commission presented its recently-published proposal for a Regulation on the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals ('REACH'), urging the Council to make rapid progress and to maintain the integrity of the Commission's proposal. There were comments from several member states concerning the significance of this dossier, and the need for appropriate input from both the Environment and Competitiveness formations of the Council. Ireland 732W confirmed that this dossier would be a priority during their Presidency, and that they would continue to involve both industry and environment ministers. There was no UK intervention.
There was an exchange of views on the Commission's proposal for a Regulation to extend the Financial Instrument for the Environment (LIFE) until 2006. Portugal, Spam, Finland, France, Greece and Poland all expressed support for early agreement, and a wish to see LIFE continue beyond 2006. Germany and Sweden were also supportive but emphasised the need for the extension to take place within the existing financial perspective.
The Commission spoke briefly to note that its report on the European Environment Agency was due to be published within days.
There was no discussion of the remaining items under Other Business, which were all written items for information.
Over lunch we discussed the outcome of the 9th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Climate Change, and heard from Borge Brende, the Norwegian environment minister, who is to chair the 12th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD12) in April. He informed the ministers present that he has asked the Secretary of State to chair the UNECE Regional Implementation Forum in Geneva on 15–16 January, which will help prepare for CSD12.