A Larger Europe Will Be a Greener Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 21, 2003 (ENS) - The 10 countries due to join the European Union next year must turn their attention from adopting EU environment laws to implementing them, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said today. She was addressing the ninth and last annual informal meeting with accession country environment ministers.

Wallstrom

European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom (Photo courtesy SBI)
Wallstrom, together with Enlargement Commissioner, Guenther Verheugen, and Vasso Papandreou, Greek Environment Minister and Chair of the Environment Council today met environment ministers from the 13 candidate countries. Ten countries will sign up to join the European Union in April. When their accession process is complete in 2004, the bloc will expand to 25 countries, and three more have begun the accession process.

The 10 countries joining the EU in 2004 are: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Wallstrom said, "We are now entering a critical phase. The rules must be fully applied on the ground and important nature sites safeguarded. This is paramount to ensuring sustainable development in an enlarged EU."

The Commission estimates that the 10 countries have already transposed around 80 percent of the EU's 149 environmental laws. But observing them in practice would be a ""tougher nut to crack," Wallstrom said. "It isn't enough to have the laws on your books, you have to implement them."

Once the Accession Treaties have been signed in April, the 10 acceding countries will participate fully in all formal European Council meetings, committees and working groups and become integrated into the EU environmental policy making process. Consequently, this Informal Meeting, the last of its kind, heralds the beginning of a new phase of more intensified co-operation to ensure that environmental standards are uniformly applied across the enlarged European Union.

Upon accession the level of EU cash for environmental projects will rise three-fold as the 10 new member states become eligible for cohesion and structural funds, the commissioner explained. But this would still fall well short of the total needed, which the Commission puts at two to three percent of the accession countries' Gross Domestic Product.

Six months before they officially join the EU, the Commission will report on how well the accession states are implementing the bloc's environmental laws. Wallstrom underlined the importance of this assessment, hinting that the Commission might even launch legal action against new member states if this were warranted.

Miklos

Environment Minister of Slovakia Laszlo Miklos (Photo courtesy ENB)
Slovak Environment Minister Laszlo Miklos said the possibility was not yet troubling the new countries. "I'm not worrying about that. Wallstrom said it frankly, they don't want to start with sanctions," he told reporters.

Miklos said the real priority was a more efficient approach to EU finance provision than the current funding arrangements. Slovakia, along with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, is to present proposals for changes later this year.

Meanwhile, accession country environmentalists continue to complain that governments are not applying basic EU laws such as environmental impact assessments on nature reserves. In a statement today, WWF Poland and the Polish Bird Protection Society said this was the case for a road project through the Biebrza Marshes.

Moreover, the country's new national development plan made it "it impossible to implement a coherent environmental policy" and could lead to "environmentally hazardous investments with EU funds," it said. Similar complaints have been raised in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}