21st Jun 2021

MEPs clash with commission on environment rules

The European Parliament postponed a vote on an EU law on fluorinated gases on Wednesday (5 April) due to a dispute between MEPs and the European Commission on the possibility for member states to have stricter environment rules.

The vote is set to take place on Thursday (6 April) instead.

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MEPs and member states in February agreed on a EU directive setting standards to clamp down on emissions from fluorinated gases, but under the condition that countries with stricter national laws be given six years to adapt to EU harmonisation.

Before asking to postpone the vote Irish centre-right MEP Avril Doyle said that a statement from the commission showed "great disrespect and disregard for the clear will of the parliament and the council [member states decision-making body]".

The agreement between member states and the European Parliament was reached in a conciliation committee - designed to achieve consensus between the parliament and governments on particularly hard fought cases – and allowed 'stubborn' countries like Denmark and Austria to temporarily keep their current stricter rules on the so-called f-gases.

However, when MEPs debated the issue on the eve of the vote, the commission stated that member states with more stringent regulation must justify the reason for having so and that the commission can then accept or reject such measures.

"The commission is ... obliged to reserve its position on this issue," said EU education commissioner Jan Figel on behalf of the commission.

The commission and some member states are concerned that an imbalance between different member states' rules on f-gases would disrupt the EU's internal market, keeping products allowed in one member state locked out from other member states' markets.

Austria and Denmark have strict legislation on f-gases in place and they view it as a key measure in their policy mix to achieve their Kyoto climate change targets.

Both countries have fought with Brussels for over two years on upholding their stricter environmental laws, while the Commission has been considering legal action against Vienna and Copenhagen.

MEPs said they will again postpone the vote, until April 27, unless the commission says publicly that it will retract two letters sent to Denmark and Austria asking for the countries to justify why they have stricter rules on fluorinated gasses than those agreed previously by EU governments.

F-gases, believed to contribute to global warming, are widely used in air conditioners, refrigerators, insulating foam, fire protection equipment, cleaning products and even in the soles of 'air-tech' jogging shoes, among other things.

"The commission has made the environment one of their priority policies. It doesn’t make sense that they now want to punish countries which are making an extra effort for the environment," said Danish eurosceptic MEP Jens-Peter Bonde.

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