Cyprus begins environmental accession talks

EU Commission praises water management, raises concerns over environmental institutions

The European Commission began the first of three rounds of bilateral "screening" talks with Cyprus on environmental affairs this week by expressing concern over the ability of Cypriot environmental protection institutions to achieve standards required by the EU for full accession to proceed.

The meetings with officials from the Cypriot environment ministry on Monday and Tuesday covered progress towards compliance with the EU's environmental standards. The Cypriot representative at the talks, agriculture counsellor Vania Theophilou, said the Commission noted in particular its lack of mature environmental institutions. She stressed that Cyprus had "a long way to go" before it would be ready to properly administer newly formulated environmental legislation, and that she "doubted that [it] would be fully prepared by the provisional accession date" of 2003.

The screening talks are an opportunity for Cyprus to discuss environmental issues in detail with the Commission and highlight areas where political negotiations might be needed in the run-up to accession. Similar meetings are under way or planned for five other "first-wave" EU applicant countries.

Ms Theophilou said the first round of talks, which focused on industrial pollution control, water quality, nature protection and "horizontal" legislation such as reporting on the implementation status of EU environmental directives, had gone "smoothly".

Cyprus differs markedly from the other prospective EU entrants in its environmental situation due to historical and geographical factors. Its hot climate means that good waste water management has always been paramount - the Commission praised its use of sewage as an agricultural fertiliser and for irrigation. The country's low level of industrial development and open economy has left the environment relatively clean by EU standards. Environmental quality in the other five first-wave accession aspirants has been blighted by centrally-planned economic policies in the recent past.

However, Mrs. Theophilou acknowledged that Cyprus does face other problems. Since the invasion of Turkish forces in 1974 the southern, Greek part of the island has undergone extremely rapid urbanisation which has highlighted the lack of any waste management infrastructure. Holiday complexes and British military bases and are also placing land-use stresses on the country's wilderness and wildlife.

In response, the country has produced an action plan for the environment, closely based on the EU's own fifth environmental action programme and its five key areas for integration of environmental concerns. An accompanying framework law on the protection of the environment has been approved which obliges environmental issues to be taken into account in other sectors and is intended to be the main instrument for implementation of the bulk of the acquis.

Follow Up:
Permanent delegation of Cyprus to the EU, tel: +32 2 735 3510.

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