Belgium is determined to get EC environment ministers to agree on waste recycling legislation after nearly six months of shaping environmental policy for the European Community.

But months of tough negotiations before and during Belgium's term as EC president, and massive pressure from industry, have greatly changed what started as a bid to get the community to recycle over half of its waste packaging.The legislation will cover all kinds of packaging from wine bottles and hamburger wrappers to the cardboard box that comes with a new TV set - at least 50 million metric tons of waste a year - and will affect every EC business and household.

Belgian Environment Minister Magda de Galan says the future law has been knocked into a form that should now be accepted because it strikes a balance between the goals of environmental protection and free trade in packaged products in the community.

Without EC laws, there was a danger of several EC countries bringing in measures separately to manage waste and discourage certain types of packaging, in some cases limiting cross-border trade in packaged goods or the packaging materials themselves.

"We now have a balanced text which respects the need to avoid trade

barriers," Mr. De Galan told the European Parliament's environment committee this week. She was banking on an agreement when environment ministers meet in Brussels on Dec. 2.

But countries with the highest environmental standards are far from happy with a proposal that could prevent them from recycling more than they already do.

Belgium had reworked the text and wanted to limit the amount of packaging that EC countries would be allowed to recycle or salvage before dumping or burning. The proposed limits are less than what Denmark is already doing and some other countries are close to.

The legislation proposed by the European Commission more than a year ago would have forced each country to prevent more than 10 percent of all packaging waste being thrown away or burned.

That proposal now limits countries to recycling or recouping a maximum of about two-thirds of all packaging waste for recycling or burning in incinerators to generate energy.

This would force the progressive countries to dump the other 30 percent or more of their waste, or burn it without capturing the energy created by incineration.

"There's a great deal of hostility from Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands on the upper limits," one official involved in the negotiations told Reuters.

Belgian diplomats say this is what political horse-trading is about and that there would be no EC legislation if everyone, and above all the poorer EC countries, were told from the outset that they had to sign up at once to the standards of the more advanced.

"You start from further down and work upwards," one Belgian diplomat involved in the talks said.

Things can change and any country is free to make its case for wanting to go further in the war against packaging waste on their own territory, as long as this does not inhibit different types of packaging from circulating freely in the community.

Either way, Belgium is set on clinching a broad political agreement on Dec. 2.

If dozens of more minor problems are solved, it has a good chance of getting the majority required for an agreement.