THE 12 nations of the European Union are stepping up their efforts to promote a commonly accepted eco-label for environmentally friendly products.
But with bureaucratic confusion and government delays, the EU is having trouble agreeing on the standards that must be met before a commodity can win the seal of approval - a logo in the shape of a daisy with the EU's 12 stars as petals.
The European Commission in Brussels launched a campaign three years ago to foster a common European quality standard for manufactured goods, and to assign eco-labels to approved products. So far, only two categories - dishwashers and washing machines - can be considered for the EU eco-daisy.
Other items, ranging from detergent and cat litter to styling mousse and toothpaste, are the subject of dispute between countries with differing environmental standards.
The European Commission is looking for ways to speed up the qualifying process and has asked the EU member-states to give eco-labeling a higher priority.
Ioannis Paleokrassis, the EU environment commissioner, is eager to see rapid progress, a Brussels official says. ``We would like to see any manufactured item that might constitute a threat to the environment be subjected to strict criteria,'' the official says. ``The award of the eco-daisy would be a guarantee to EU consumers that the product is safe.''
The EU is already the world's largest single market outside India and China, with 345 million customers. That number will rise to 370 million if and when Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Austria join the grouping.
The concept of Europewide environmental standards has widespread support in Europe. The latest public opinion survey shows that 85 percent of Europeans believe environmental protection is an immediate and urgent problem. Seven out of 10 want environmental standards applied internationally rather than nationally.
National environmental standards vary widely from country to country. Some years ago Norway, Sweden, and Finland tried to promote a common eco-label that would indicate high environmental criteria, but the scheme has since been heavily criticized by consumer groups for its failure to maintain standards.
EU officials complain privately that southern members tried to soften the criteria of environmental friendliness, while countries on the EU's northern rim tend to set tougher standards. Three EU countries - Ireland, Italy, and Belgium - have yet to set up national eco-labeling committees, further holding up progress.
Individual countries have been given different ranges of products to consider. The Netherlands is examining shoes, France is studying shampoos, and Britain is concentrating on hair spray, deodorants, soil improvers, and light bulbs.
A member of the British committee said that although setting an environmental standard for a light bulb might seem an easy matter, in fact it was proving highly complex. Factors such as industrial processing, energy consumption, and disposal problems all have to be factored into eco-friendliness and agreed by the EU as a whole.