Last year, Commission president Romano Prodi said that the EU could be ready to welcome new members from 2002 while acknowledging that none of them would comply with all EU environmental laws by then (ENDS Daily 14 October 1999). More recently, the European Parliament's environment committee chairman Caroline Jackson raised fears that the pressure for expansion could lead to pressure for tough environmental conditions to be relaxed (ENDS Daily 21 January).
A progress report published last year showed that improvements to environmental standards were unacceptably sluggish in the six countries that had already started talks. Formal negotiations will now begin with a further six states, Mr Verheugen announced today. The first negotiating chapters will be opened with them in late March. Environment is not expected to be among them.
Mr Verheugen confirmed that countries might be granted transition periods to comply fully with EU environmental standards after accession. But he stressed that this did not mean that environmental concerns were a low priority adding that transition periods were likely to be shorter than those granted previously to current member states.
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