CEE businesses seek clearer environmental rules

Industry and government identify obstacles to progress, pledge cooperation during accession

Industry and government representatives from central and eastern European (CEE) states have agreed to work more closely on environmental issues while their countries are negotiating accession to the EU. About 80 delegates meeting last week in Szentendre, Hungary, promised to actively seek partnerships, set realistic goals for law implementation and improve communication between themselves.

Non-profit organisations could also play an important coordinating role, as well as promoting eco-efficient practices and providing information, according to a statement issued after the meeting. It was organised by the lobby group European Round Table of industrialists (ERT) and the Hungary-based Regional Environmental Center (REC).

Businesses from both CEE and EU countries spoke of the need for greater transparency in government-industry relations, particularly when drafting new environmental legislation. Delegates complained that many formal environmental standards in the region are stricter than those in the EU, while a lack of consultation when drawing them up makes them harder to implement.

Tetrapak Hungary's environmental manager Eva Baka pointed out, for example, that her company must recycle 45% of its packaging products to avoid paying an environmental product fee. This is collected by the government and redistributed through environment-related projects. The EU has set a minimum of 15% recycling for packaging. Along with other packaging companies, Tetrapak is lobbying for creation of an independent recovery organisation, supported by industry, to recycle the waste.

Government officials, on the other hand, stressed that businesses had often behaved irresponsibly about environmental issues. Aare Sirendi, director of Estonia's environmental inspectorate, said some big western companies had tried to adopt lower standards when they started up projects in CEE countries than they would have back home.

Moreover, governments are still relatively inexperienced in how to negotiate with businesses, noted Zsuzsa Lehocki, an expert on environmental policy. "In the dialogue it's very important to identify what is related to environment and what is not," she said.

Industry representatives, on the other hand, complained about bureaucracy surrounding environment-related issues. "Long, protracted negotiations with eight government offices on the same topic ­ typically land ownership or environmental permits serve no one," noted Derek Norman of UK-based Pilkington Group, which has factories in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Follow Up:
Hungarian environment ministry, tel: +36 1 201 4091.

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