Speaking after a final round of screening talks to assess progress towards EU standards in the environmental sector, Bedrich Moldan of Prague's Charles University said that compliance would be "very difficult," particularly in the fields of water pollution and waste management, and that the "sheer volume" of legislation still to be transposed into the national statute book was "worrisome". In its most recent progress report on the accession process, the European Commission stated that the country had made "limited progress" on agreed short-term environmental goals.
The main obstacle to progress in the environmental field, according to professor Moldan, was the "compartmentalisation" of both legislative and institutional structures fostered during the communist period, with little communication between the different public bodies overseeing environmental matters. This will make the EU's 1996 integrated pollution prevention and control directive "very, very difficult" to implement, he said.
Weak local authority control over "thousands" of small enterprises discharging small amounts of dangerous substances into water and a waste regime under which until recently only hazardous and hospital waste had been treated seriously will also make the relevant EU legislation in these areas difficult to achieve.
However, professor Moldan said Commission concerns over air quality had been dispelled in the last three years after heavy investment in industrial abatement apparatus had brought "huge cuts" in per capita sulphur dioxide emissions. These are now down to the OECD average from having been the highest in Europe in 1989, he said.
He claimed that the Czech Republic's record on nature protection and conservation had been excellent, but stressed that a desire to take the Natura 2000 network of protected sites "very seriously" would require a further transition period. In the field of nuclear safety the country is in a "schizophrenic position," with "very high" levels of expertise from pre-communist days but a public sceptical of the benefits of completion of the Temelín nuclear plant in south Bohemia.
The Czech Republic expects to submit its final position paper on proposals for transitional periods in late April, with a view to beginning political negotiations on environmental matters "before the summer". However, professor Moldan noted that the country was "unhappy" about "political voices wanting to postpone" the process.
Mission of the Czech Republic to the EU, tel: +32 2 375 81 16; Czech environment ministry, tel: +420 2 67 12 11 11.
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