I would like to thank the Presidency, and particularly the Minister for the excellent work, effort  and cooperation, throughout the 6 months of the Presidency.

Let me take the opportunity also to congratulate the President and all of you involved in the global climate deal in Paris last weekend. I hope we can harness and continue to strengthen that momentum for our shared aims.

On that agenda, the issue of air pollution is one of our primary concerns.

Air pollution is the number-one environmental cause of death in the EU, leading to no less than 400,000 premature deaths each year and to high human and economic costs from respiratory and cardio-vascular disease.  No mentioning the amount of chronic diseases apart from those deaths.  

The Commission's proposal for a revamped National Emission Ceilings Directive aims to reduce these health impacts by 52% through substantial reductions of the main pollutants. The European Parliament has supported our proposal. 

Today's agreement by the Environment Ministers allows us to move into negotiations with the European Parliament and I welcome this. However the general approach agreed today does not get close enough to the health impact reduction of 52% that we are aiming at. Such a level is not only reasonable but also achievable; it achieves the best cost - benefit balance. Less ambition does not necessarily mean lower financial costs. But it certainly means higher human costs. Just to give you an idea, we will be saving around 4000 premature deaths every year for every 1 percent reduction in our target, in the EU alone.

So today the Commission takes note of the position of the Council, which should bring a first-reading agreement within reach.

And, I am convinced that it is possible for Member States to significantly reduce the number of premature deaths due to air pollution through cost-effective measures as part of a balanced approach that allocates efforts between Member States and also efforts between sectors. We will certainly continue to work with the Dutch Presidency to see how the specific issues of certain Member States can be accommodated without reducing the overall ambition. 

So the revision of the NEC Directive will continue to be a priority on the Commission's 2016 Work Programme. 

Today the Council also adopted conclusions on the Mid-Term Review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. These conclusions reflect the serious concerns about biodiversity loss, a concern held by no less than three quarters of European citizens. 

More than 500000 citizens and experts replied to 
our public consultation on the Birds and Habitat Directive – a record for any consultation conducted by the Commission.

The conclusions welcome the Commission report and call for the better mainstreaming of biodiversity targets in other policy areas such as the Common Agricultural Policy, and strong implementation in the Natura 2000 network both on land as well on sea. 

The Commission will look at further action that needs to be taken at EU level, in particular in light of the conclusions of the Nature fitness check next spring.

Later on today I will also be presenting to Council the new Circular Economy package adopted by the Commission on 2 December. 

The Circular Economy package ties in closely with a number of EU priorities and it provides a framework towards the implementation of many of the recently agreed 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

It reflects what we said we would do in the Commission Work Programme: combine a high level of ambition with the need to take into account of the different performance levels of the different Member States. In developing the proposals we have therefore taken due account of the comments and suggestions made by Member States on our 2014 waste proposals.

Several Member States have already adopted impressive strategies on circular economy and resource efficiency. I would also like to add that several multinational companies has also already committed, by investing in the Circular Economy as well. 

I invited all Member States to actively support the implementation of the new package and to complement it with those actions where Member States themselves have the levers for change.


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