Commission warns accession countries over EIA

Directive must be applied from 2001 or funding stops, Wallström tells ministers

Countries applying to join the EU will have to apply a key directive requiring environmental impact assessments (EIA) of major projects from next year or risk losing EU funds, European environment commissioner Margot Wallström warned today.

Addressing the sixth regular meeting of accession country ministers of environment with the Commission and presidency of the EU in Brussels today, Ms Wallström said that although most of the 13 states striving for entry had EIA laws in place already, "they lack key elements of the EU legislation."

"The Commission is prepared to accept a certain degree of flexibility on a case-by-case basis for this year. However, from 2001 all countries should have transposed and started implementing the directive and no flexibility will be granted. Any further delay in completing the transposition of the directive risks delaying financing next year." Officials said the funds at stake included the established Phare and new Ispa programmes (ENDS Daily 21 July).

The use of EIA procedures in applicant countries has surfaced as a bone of contention several times - most recently in the case of a controversial dam project in Poland (ENDS Daily 19 September). Environmentalists deny government assurances that correct assessments on the project were made. Ms Wallström said the Commission was investigating the case.

Last month, the Commission sent a similar warning to the Czech Republic over opposition moves to weaken existing EIA laws (ENDS Daily 5 September). Czech environment minister Miloš Kužvart told ENDS Daily today that the threat to the law had not subsided, but that he was confident that the attempt to dilute it would be defeated at a second reading in November. Two similar attempts to water down existing nature protection legislation had already been thwarted, he said.

On a broader note, the commissioner repeated her now-familiar theme that accession country progress towards adopting EU's environmental laws was going too slowly. "It is difficult to suppress some disappointment this year," she told the ministers. "The unfortunate fact is that nearly all candidate countries are behind schedule."

On a brighter note the commissioner awarded prizes to eleven cities in accession countries for making "outstanding progress in implementation of EU environmental legislation." The cities are Rousse in Bulgaria, Decín, Kladno and Litomerice in the Czech Republic, Tartu in Estonia, Veszprem in Hungary, Bielsko Biala and Gdansk in Poland, Rimavská sobota in Slovakia and Izmit in Turkey.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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