EU Enlargement Begins With Environmental Agency

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, January 17, 2001 (ENS) - The European Union's environmental agency is about to get a much broader view of the continent's ecological health as 13 new countries prepare to join.

The Copenhagen based European Environment Agency (EEA) supports sustainable development and helps improve Europe's environment by providing information to policy makers and the public. It aims to establish a seamless environmental information system.


EEA headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo courtesy EEA)
Its members are the 15 European Union nations plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which are members of the European Economic Area, an agreement guaranteeing the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital.

On Tuesday, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, adopted proposals which will enable 13 countries to join the agency this year. It is the first tangible proof that enlargement of the European Union is on its way.

The countries are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Turkey.

All 13 are known as Candidate Countries because they are seeking full membership of the European Union. The EEA is the first of the 11 European Union specialized agencies to welcome Candidate Countries before their full accession to the European Union.

The European Union has undergone several enlargements since its creation by six founding member nations but never on the scale expected in the next decade.

To the European Union, the 13 Candidate Countries represent 105 million more people and an increase in land mass of 34 percent, not to mention a wealth of different histories and cultures. Their accession will broaden a single set of trade rules, a single tariff, and a single set of administrative procedures across the single market of the enlarged Union.

The EEA's work on issues like water shortage, transboundary air pollution, forests and biodiversity are likely to become even more important with increased membership. Improving and streamlining monitoring and data collection in the new member countries has become the EEA's priority.

All 13 countries' agreements with the European Commission must be ratified by the European Union's Council of Ministers and the countries themselves before they can join. This is expected to happen during 2001.


The historic center of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic - one of 13 nations preparing to join the European Union. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
Under the agreements, the new member countries will participate in the EEA's work program. They will be bound by the regulation underpinning the agency, including a requirement to create infrastructure for generating uniform environmental data.

Each country will have equal rights to provide staff to the EEA, to win third party research contracts and to participate in the agency's system of environmental topic centers. They will participate in the EEA management board, but will not have voting rights until full European Union accession.

The new members' financial commitments will be subsidized by the European Union during the first three years.

With almost double its current membership, the EEA expects to provide a more comprehensive picture of the state of Europe's environment. The agency will help Candidate Countries implement the European Union's environmental laws before their accession.

Last month, international conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) warned against using environmental difficulties as an excuse to delay the enlargement of the European Union.

"Enlargement can enrich the European Union," said Irek Chojnacki of WWF Poland. "The environmental case for early enlargement is very strong.

"The environment has been shamefully neglected in the accession debate. Environmental issues can benefit an enlargement process that is facing increasing skepticism."