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Belgian PM downplays talk of environment policy pause

Belgian PM downplays talk of environment policy pause

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he was committed to pushing major green policy proposals as he prepares to chair the EU Council, just a day after he stood by calls to deprioritise environmental files not directly concerned with climate change.

“The Green Deal is a good package of legislation,” De Croo said on Friday (8 December) in response to a question from Euronews concerning the EU's flagship package of environmental bills.

De Croo was presenting his government’s programme for its six-month turn chairing the Council, which must agree to new EU laws alongside the European Parliament. The Belgian Presidency will start on 1 January.

“Everyone tries to imply in their questioning that I would be doubting the Green Deal – that's not the case at all,” the Belgian leader said, adding that he “wouldn't take an inch” away from the EU's green objectives.

In an interview published on Thursday by Belgian newspaper Le Vif, the prime minister said he stood by the call he made back in May for a “pause” in environmental legislation – a call which, as he acknowledged, angered many at the time.

De Croo was quoted as saying the need to “radically reduce” emissions is widely accepted, but that adding nature restoration, biodiversity or chemicals restrictions to the mix would put that priority “under pressure”.

Nonetheless, Belgium's EU Presidency programme promises to continue work on a raft of EU Green Deal initiatives that aren't just about climate change, while “ensuring that all policies are crafted and executed in line with environmental and climate objectives”.

The government said it wants to “advance” negotiations with the European Parliament over the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), the Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD), and the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWWTD), as well as “continuing work” on the anti-greenwashing Green Claims Directive, the End-of-life Vehicles Regulation, and the Waste Framework Directive, which aims to cut food and textile waste.

The presidency said it will “make every effort” to advance negotiations on the proposed Soil Monitoring Law, and to implement the European Commission's Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. That will include talks on reducing pollution from microplastics and PFAS, the huge family of harmful "forever chemicals" that accumulate in the environment and living organisms.

Belgium also intends to continue talks on the highly controversial proposal to deregulate genetically modified plants strains developed using ‘new genomic techniques’ (NGTs), and the proposed on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR).

Belgium’s environmental policy programme explicitly anticipates agreement between the Council and Parliament only on the proposed Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF) and updated CO2 emissions standards for heavy vehicles like lorries and buses. Pressed on whether this meant no deal was expected on any of the other files, De Croo demurred.

De Croo also suggested policy makers were too prone to set targets without thinking about how they can be achieved. “On the 'how to do it,' we have to be a bit more innovation-driven,” De Croo said.

On energy policy, Belgium aims to adopt Council conclusions on cross-border on onshore and offshore renewable energy infrastructure and work with the European Commission on its ‘hydrogen bank’ plans and a potential hydrogen import strategy. The Belgian government also plans to host a ‘renovation week’ to further EU aims to reduce the huge amounts of energy wasted through poorly insulated and inefficient homes.