Long green transition seen for EU applicants

Commission enlargement directorate says more than five years needed for difficult directives

Central and eastern European countries preparing to join the EU will need over five years after legal accession to fully implement the EU's most demanding environmental laws, a senior European Commission official said yesterday. The statement gives the first clear indication of how strict the EU will be in allowing accession countries "transition periods" on environmental laws.

At a hearing on EU enlargement and environment organised in Brussels by the European Parliament's environment committee, the head of the Commission's enlargement directorate Françoise Gaudenzi responded to a suggestion from MEPs that no transition periods should be over five years after accession. This would probably not be "fair," she said.

Ms Gaudenzi said that EU directives regulating sewage treatment, industrial pollution control and packaging waste in particular, would require "substantial preparatory work" as well as large amounts of finance and would thus require longer transition periods. But the bulk of EU environmental laws would be implemented by the time the countries joined the union, she said. The first accessions are expected to happen in two to three years.

The Commission is currently negotiating with the first six accession countries over how long environmental transition periods should last. The parliament has no role in the talks but must approve or reject the final accession agreements.

Last year accession countries made formal requests for periods of up to 14 years to implement various directives (ENDS Daily 9 December 1999). The Commission asked them to revise these bids or provide further justification but gave no indication of what it would consider to be acceptable transition periods. EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström has repeatedly refused to say how long these could be, though stressing that they should be as short as possible.

Follow Up:
European Parliament environment committee, tel: +32 2 284 2111. See also the hearing programme and a parliament press release. More detailed documents relating to the hearing will be posted here.

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