Talking to ENDS Daily after screening talks held in Brussels, Polish EU environment counsellor Tadeusz Strojwas said that his government was not yet able to state how long it would need beyond the provisional membership date of 1 January 2003 to achieve the practical implementation of EU standards.
The admission will disappoint other aspirant countries, which had been hoping that the six "first wave" states could present their position paper to the commission en masse well before the summer. Most want to begin political negotiations under the Finnish presidency of the EU, which runs from July to December. Finland is thought to be more sympathetic to EU enlargement than Portugal, which takes over the presidency in January 2000.
Mr Strojwas also conceded that Poland's accession strategy had "perhaps not taken the best approach," as an all-embracing framework environmental law still in the parliamentary stages was delaying the introduction of more detailed sectoral laws. Last December the commission criticised Poland's "limited progress" since the approximation process began in 1997 and warned that full legal transposition could take longer than originally foreseen.
The main sticking point for Poland is water quality, particularly the implementation of the EU's drinking water quality and urban waste water treatment directives. Although over 300 new treatment plants have been built and a further 1,000 are under construction, Mr Strojwas said there was still a long way to go. However, any transition period to accommodate the backlog would not extend beyond a decade, he added. The total cost of full environmental compliance amounts to euros 40bn, he said.
Also presenting difficulties are fuel quality standards, where lead will not be phased out before the deadline envisaged by the EU, and waste management. Local protests, particularly in Warsaw, have held up the modernisation of waste incineration plants - the country's main means of waste disposal.
On the plus side, a strong record of nature conservation means that implementation of the birds and habitats directives will be straightforward, and air quality has improved dramatically. Emissions are now rising at a slower rate than economic growth, and past environmental blackspots such as Upper Silesia and the Polish part of the Black Triangle in the south-west of the country are now relatively clean, Mr Strojwas said.
Polish permanent representation to the EU, tel: +32 2 777 7720; Polish environment ministry, tel: +48 22 825 0001.
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