European Union environment ministers met in Palma yesterday for the first round of talks of the weekend's informal meeting. At their first working session, ministers examined the important threats to soil and the action that needs to be taken in order to prevent its increasing degradation in Europe. The president of the European Union Environment Council, Spanish Minister Jaume Matas, said that the main aim of the meeting is to move towards a common EU policy on the integrated protection of soil quality, to round off existing framework for the protection of air and water. At present their is no common framework for all EU member states and Matas said that Spain wanted to take advantage of its presidency to raise the alarm over the need for a common framework for soil protection. The main problems facing soil is that it is a limited and non-renewable resource. Matas said that there is growing concern about its rapid rate of degradation which is caused by meteorological factors and the pressure it is subjected to by human activity. Its natural regeneration is very slow. For instance in humid climates it can take 500 years for only 2.5 centimetres of soil to form, Matas said. The Minister went on to say that the global phenomenon of soil degradation affects all member states to a greater or lesser extent. The main degradation problems are erosion - seen mainly in the Mediterranean region, owing to its characteristic steep slopes, high temperatures and frequent torrential rain along with contamination, loss of organic material and salinisation, again affecting the Mediterranean countries considerably. Matas admitted that the Spanish presidency is undoubtably going to place a southern stamp on the proceedings in Palma by dealing with a problem which, although affects all member states, is of greater concern in the Mediterranean basin. Spain wants to demonstrate its particular concern about the degradation which is affecting soil, a life-sustaining resource, Matas said.