THE WORLD FROM.Brussels as June's Earth Summit Nears, EC Hopes of a Public Relations Coup for Its Environmental Policies Fade

Article excerpt

EUROPEAN Community officials have special reasons these days to be preoccupied with environmental issues.

For one thing, their flagship headquarters in Brussels - a 13-story, starfish-shaped behemoth that is not yet 30 years old - stands empty and forlorn, the thousands of Eurocrats who until recently worked there no longer willing to breathe the asbestos-stuffed building's air.

But that is a minor inconvenience: Brussels is a city where new office buildings rise faster than Belgian waffles, so finding alternative space has not been all that difficult.

More problematic for the Community is its difficulty in putting together a coherent and toothy environmental policy before June's global Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

With some member countries dragging their feet on new anti-pollution standards, and with European industries bristling at regulations they say would put them at an international disadvantage, EC hopes of pulling off a public relations coup at the Rio summit are beginning to fade.

EC expectations of an image boost from the Rio conference were reasonable enough. EC countries are already committed to stabilizing carbon-dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000 - a position that has garnered praise from both environmental organizations and the world's developing countries. All the EC needed were the regulations for making the 1990 commitment a reality, and it could arrive in Rio with a solid policy that would make it an example for the wealthy North and prove its solidarity with the struggling and less-energy-profligate South.

Making a success of Rio was all the more important to the EC after its international image was weakened at the equally high-profile General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) ministerial meeting in Brussels in December 1990. …