Speedy EU enlargement "good for environment"

Costs of complying with EU laws have been overstated, says Brussels think-tank

The EU's planned enlargement to the east will be good for the environment, according to a report released in Brussels yesterday. The Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) study predicts that candidate countries face lower costs for complying with EU environmental standards than anticipated.

Compliance with the EU's environmental "acquis" is widely seen as being one of the biggest challenges for central and eastern European (CEE) countries due to join the bloc from around 2003. The European Commission has accepted that no CEE countries will comply fully with EU environment laws on accession (ENDS Daily 16 July 1997), but is pushing hard to limit allowable derogations, or transition periods (ENDS Daily 21 June).

Led by Tom Garvey, formerly a senior official in the Commission's environment directorate and more recently head of the EU task force investigating January's Baia Mare cyanide leak disaster, the CEPS study questions all these assumptions.

The scale of investment required to implement the acquis has been overstated, it says, since existing capital stock will have been largely replaced by the time of accession "in the interests of modern quality, productivity and energy efficiency standards". Fears of "environmental dumping" by western companies are also "largely without foundation," it says.

The report argues that the significant investments that will be required by energy, water and waste utilities "are wrongly assumed to be largely a burden on public capital requirements, and it is this misapprehension that is giving rise to the demand for long transition periods". It recommends cost-recovery pricing in these sectors to raise revenues and reduce the scale of the investment required.

It concludes that enlargement "will have a positive effect both on the European environment and on business; hence, the sooner the better". Since CEE countries have a high rate of productive and social capital formation, it adds, they "can take a lead in sustainable development at lower costs than the more highly developed economies" of existing EU members.

Follow Up:
CEPS, tel: +32 2 229 3911. See also press release and report summary.

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