The representative of the Netherlands Presidency opened the debate by arguing that the serious threat of air pollution to the environment and human health is well known and of immense concern. She said that the main aim of this proposal is to set long term commitments for achieving air emission reductions for 2030 in order to pave the way for reaching the goals of the 7th environmental action plan and the WHO air quality levels. On the basis of the general approach agreed under the Luxembourg Presidency in December 2015, the Netherlands has had intensive negotiations with the European Parliament in order to reach an agreement at first reading.
The representative explained that she met last week with the rapporteur and shadow rapporteurs in the Parliament for this proposal. She stressed to them its importance and that she was fully committed to finding an agreement, despite the fact that their Presidency is soon coming to an end. That morning, she said that she had had contact with the Parliament about the prospect of holding another trilogue, possibly the following morning. She explained that they are quite close to a final deal but that several issues remain open, including flexibilities, the binding nature of the 2025 levels and the level of ambition of the 2030 commitments. The level of ambition should be as high as possible, not because the Parliament or Commission say so, but because we owe this to our citizens in terms of cleaner air, she said. At the same time commitments, the representative underlined that the targets should also be realistic and achievable.
Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, thanked the Netherlands Presidency for all their work over the course of the last 6 months. On the key issues he said that the margin for manoeuvre is not wide but he welcomes the openness to arrive at compromises that are meaningful for European citizens.
He believes they are very close to a deal and that they should take the opportunity while it is still there. While allowing flexibility for some objectives may be needed or useful, the new law should primarily help to enforce and implement concrete action on the ground. He stressed the importance of continuing to pursue a deal because of increasing public concern about health impacts of air pollution and the fast approaching deadline for meeting the 2020 targets. Any delay is likely to jeopardise international policy efforts. Moreover, there is the great uncertainty without a deal, because any substantial delay without a clear outcome could mean that many more lives are lost prematurely due to air pollution. The Commissioner also emphasised the fact that the costs of not achieving the targets were also financial in nature, since respiratory diseases have an impact on health services, as well as the economy through lost working days. He concluded by reiterating the fact that this was the right moment to push for a conclusion of the agreement.
The representative of Luxembourg regretted the fact that, despite the efforts made by the Presidency, the institutions have not yet reached an agreement on this very important file. She emphasised the importance of reducing premature deaths and negative health impacts caused by atmospheric pollution. Given the increasingly level of eurosceptism in Europe, she said that it was necessary to show that joint action can be taken for the benefit of all citizens. Concluding this agreement is therefore a question of credibility and responsibility.
The representative of Austria said that the Commission's clean air package is something that his country thinks is necessary. Ambitious reduction targets are desirable, but these must be implemented with proportionate measures for the Member States. Regarding the general orientation of the ENVI Council in December 2015, and reduction targets discussed then for 2030, he argued that the targets for Austria were not balanced or well thought out.
The representative of France expressed her support for the Netherlands Presidency in attempting to reach an agreement with the Parliament in first reading. She pointed out that the objectives of the French energy transition law, adopted last summer, are fully in line with the Netherlands Presidency's objectives.
The representative of the Czech Republic believed that any postponement to second reading would have a negative impact on the protection of air quality in Member States and send the wrong signal to our partners in the 2012 Gothenburg Protocol. Taking into account the fact that investments in air cannot only be recovered but can also be profitable, the representative called upon the Member States to increase the level of their ambition to the level required by the Parliament so that a compromise can be reached. He also thought that methane and binding ceilings until 2025 could be included.
The representative of the United Kingdom said that he is keen to see a fair and ambitious outcome to the negotiations, and as part of that his country is happy to offer an extra 3% on ammonia and would encourage the Parliament to take that into consideration.
The representative of Spain felt that the most recent text is satisfactory and improves the quality of the original proposal. He said that Spain supports the levels for 2025 only being indicative in nature and that methane should also be excluded from the directive. He supports the Presidency's position of increasing the level of ambition in order to reach an agreement at first reading, but believes the commitments being asked of each Member State should strike the right balance. He pointed out that the commitments that Spain has submitted for 2030 are quite strict and are adjusted to the maximum technical and political possibilities.
The representative of Finland stressed that it was necessary to make progress in concluding the negotiations as soon as possible.
The representative of Lithuania said that the emission reduction targets should be ambitious but realistic. The achievement of these targets will already require hard work, and it is not possible to implement targets that are higher than this. Lithuania also does not support the intermediary objectives for 2025. The representative furthermore argued that the subsidiarity principle should be respected and that the flexibility mechanisms, which he considered useful and proportionate, must be maintained. He likewise expressed his opposition to having the scope of the directive extend to methane emissions. Concluding, he believed that an agreement at first reading possible would only be possible if the Parliament shows flexibility on the main elements.
The representative of Latvia thought that the mandate for the Netherlands Presidency is a good basis for further work on reaching the final agreement, and argued that the objectives should be realistic and attainable with existing financial and technological instruments and solutions. His country is not prepared to support a stricter target. Instead, it is important to start working on the implementation of the objectives instead of getting stuck in endless discussions on the degree of their ambition.
The representative of Slovenia expressed the view that, after the Council has made a step towards the Parliament's position, the Parliament should now make a step towards the Council in order to close the agreement as soon as possible in respect of the mandate they already have. She emphasised the fact that the measures for the implementation of this directive should be feasible and cost effective, and this should be the basic guideline for the Presidency when negotiating the level of ambition. She hoped the Parliament would adopt this approach.
The representative of Italy urged the importance of reaching an agreement as soon as possible and striking the desired balance between adequate sustainability and ambition.
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