Estonia will push for EU nature law amendment

Accession talks highlight difficulties on nature protection, urban waste water, compliance

Estonia is to ask the EU to amend the 1992 habitats directive to take account of the country's need to control wild populations of some protected animal species when it submits its proposals for environmental accession to the union later this year.

Talking to ENDS Daily after recent screening talks, negotiator Allan Gromov of the Estonian environment ministry said that hunting of wolves, lynx, bears and beavers was necessary to reduce the damage they did to agriculture and the potential threat to human life. Citing Slovenia and Poland as other prospective EU members with similar requirements, he said that he believed the necessary amendments would not raise opposition from existing EU members.

The Estonian government's "position paper" is also expected to ask for transition periods to enable compliance with directives on habitats, water, waste and nitrate pollution. Although Estonia has a long tradition of respect and care for nature, Mr Gromov said, its sheer wealth of biodiversity would make it hard to draw up a list of designated sites to be protected under the habitats directive by January 2003, the provisional date for entry to EU.

Despite "excellent progress" in urban waste water quality in the past five years, Mr Gromov said that a treatment network capable of ensuring compliance with the EU's 1993 directive would only be complete after 2010. At a cost of EKr2bn (euros 129m), all but one of the country's major cities now have the requisite facilities, but similar medium and small settlements could cost a further EKr5bn, he said.

Work has also yet to start on compliance with the nitrates directive, as Estonia currently has no detailed knowledge on the extent of contamination of groundwater by agricultural fertilisers. Similarly, Estonia will wait to see the final text of the draft landfill directive (ENDS Daily 11 February) before tackling its problems with municipal solid waste, virtually all of which is disposed of in this way, Mr Gromov said.

In previous reports on Estonia's environment the European Commission had expressed concern at the two highly polluting oil shale-fuelled power plants which produce 99% of the country's locally-generated electricity supply. Mr Gromov said that environmental stipulations would be included in the contract to privatise the plants, currently being negotiated with American company NRG. In any case, Mr Gromov said, the sector will "die" through lack of economic viability well before the plants become subject to the provisions of the EU's draft large combustion plants directive.

Follow Up:
Estonian environment ministry, tel: +372 626 2800.

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