Water main hurdle in Slovenian accession talks

Sewage treatment compliance not expected for over 15 years, nature protection weak

Urban waste water treatment and nature protection have emerged as the areas in which Slovenia is most likely to need transition periods as it strives to join the EU, following recent meetings between national and European Commission officials to discuss the progress towards accession.

Marko Slokar, secretary of state for the environment and leader of the Slovenian delegation, told ENDS Daily that past neglect of sewage collection and treatment facilities meant that a network complying with EU standards would not be complete before 2015-2017. The country's three largest cities lack any facilities at all, and the timetable assumes that the country will fund the estimated euros 1.1bn programme itself with only minimal recourse to outside financial aid. The total bill for environmental accession is estimated at euros 2.7bn.

Drinking water is also coming under increasing threat in Slovenia, Mr Slokar said. Most is supplied from groundwater resources which are so endangered by heavy fertiliser application that the country is considering designating its entire territory as a nitrate vulnerable zone under the EU nitrates directive.

Also problematic are the birds and habitats directives and the associated obligation to designate sites to join the pan-EU Natura 2000 network of protected areas. Lower environmental pressures in Slovenia in the past meant that the extensive protection measures required in the directives were not needed, Mr Slokar said. A transition period beyond the provisional accession date of 2003 would be necessary to carry out a thorough survey of the country's biodiversity.

In its last report on Slovenia's progress, the European Commission also pointed to waste management as an area requiring work before accession could take place. Mr Slokar confirmed that a transition period could be needed to comply with the packaging and packaging waste directive as the country currently has virtually no recycling or incineration facilities.

Almost all of Slovenia's municipal waste is dumped in 54 "more or less secure" landfills, which will be brought into line with the provisions of the EU's proposed landfill directive by a law to be passed later this year. This will introduce a landfill tax aimed at reducing the organic content of landfilled waste.

The move will also help Slovenia fulfil its "very difficult" Kyoto target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 8% over 1990 levels by 2008-12, Mr Slokar said. An estimated 4% of all Slovenia's greenhouse gas emissions are emitted as methane from landfills.

The ministry expects to submit a position paper containing firm proposals for the length of transition periods by the summer.

Follow Up:
Slovenian environment ministry, tel: +386 61 178 7400;

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