21st Mar 2019

Dutch still aim for air quality deal during EU presidency

  • Protesters in Scotland demanding clean air (Photo: Friends of the Earth Scotland)

The Netherlands “will do its utmost” to reach a political deal on air quality targets for 2030 before its mandate as EU Council president expires at the end of this month, a source close to the presidency said Tuesday (14 June).

“The ambition of the Dutch presidency is to get as far as possible with the file, including reaching a political agreement,” he said ahead of a meeting of environment ministers next Monday (20 June).

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  • Dutch politician Dijksma (c) herself is talking to representatives of the European Parliament. (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The Dutch politician chairing Monday's meeting, deputy minister for environment Sharon Dijksma, is personally involved by talking to representatives of the European Parliament.

The negotiations are about national air pollution limits, the so-called national emissions ceilings (NEC).

Last Wednesday, talks between representatives of national governments and the EP ended without an agreement. It was supposed to be the last negotiating round.

The EU source said that another negotiating round is possible before the end of the Dutch six-month presidency, which expires in 17 days.

“The discussions with both the parliament and the commission are ongoing, but we are aware that as of the 1st of July we will have to hand it over, if need be, to the next presidency,” he said.

The two sides disagree about several fundamental issues.

In its proposal published in December 2013, the European Commission had set national ceilings for each EU member state. Combined, the number of health problems and premature deaths due to air pollution were calculated to be reduced by 52 percent.

However, member states last year drew up their own version of the commission's table with national commitments.

There are 140 different ceilings: five pollutants for all 28 member states. Of those 140 targets, EU states propose to lower 115.

As a result, the combined health benefit will only be 48 percent, instead of 52 percent.

Another issue is that the EP wants an intermediate target for 2025, to make sure that member states are on track – many are having great difficulties meeting their current air quality targets.

But member states are reluctant on that.

“We don't want to be strictly monitored on the halfway point,” the contact said.

“Everything is solvable, but you need this rare ingredient: political will … It's not an easy exercise.”

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