Greens accuse Prodi of clinging to outdated concept of economy

Series Title
Series Details Vol 7, No.16, 19.4.01, p14
Publication Date 19/04/2001
Content Type

Date: 19/04/01

IT IS a confusing time for those trying to keep up with the twists and turns of EU macro-environment policy.

First there was the launch of the Sixth Environmental Action Programme - the EU's eco-blueprint for the next ten years; then there was a policy paper setting out the Union's stall ahead of next year's 'Rio plus 10' conference; and finally the European Commission outlined the main thrust of its strategy for sustainable development, due to be adopted by heads of state in June.

A group of Commissioners including President Romano Prodi and environment chief Margot Wallström has been hard at work on this strategy for almost two years, yet the paper contains little original analysis, few new policy proposals and no targets or timetables. It ends with a series of vacuous questions for 'stakeholders' such as "In what areas of sustainable development do you see a clear policy role for the European Union?"

Green group leader Heidi Hautala accused Prodi of "ecological illiteracy" for clinging to an "outdated concept of the economy which focuses on short-term effects and costs, but fails to propose any alternatives".

This criticism might be a little harsh. There is a sense of urgency in the strategy often seen lacking in previous papers. And few would argue with the plea for "sweeping economic reform" to bring about sustainable progress. But compare the text to the analysis made by former Commission President Jacques Delors in his white paper on growth, competitiveness and employment; it looks at best anachronistic and at worst anaemic.

Seven years ago, Delors called for a 'new development model' for the Union based on higher pollution charges and lower labour costs. He wrote that investing in clean technology created a 'win-win' situation that was good for the environment and good for the economy. And he stated that cleaning up the environment created jobs, not unemployment.

Someone in the Commission should send a copy to George W. Bush. Officials should also spend more time coming up with concrete policies to put these lofty principles into practice than on rehashing wish lists formulated in another era.

The Göteborg summit in June will also be an opportunity for EU leaders to put environmental considerations at the heart of all the Union's other policies. Since the Cardiff meet in 1998, ministers have been drawing up 'integration strategies' for their sectors. The Commission and the European Environment Agency have said the reports are patchy and focus more on end-of-pipe solutions than on preventative measures.

Tony Long of the World Wide Fund for Nature is even more damning. He says 20 years after the integration of the environment was made an EU goal, ministers have produced a set of "overly cautious and conservative" strategies that leave "much room for improvement".

Article forms part of a survey on the environment.

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