Bjerregaard urges global environmental dialogue

Outgoing EU commissioner stresses importance of greening next world trade talks

The EU must step up dialogue with developing countries if global environmental problems are to be tackled, outgoing EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard has urged. Writing in the latest issue of her monthly newsletter, she warned that only when industrialised countries came up with real results in the environmental field "can we take it upon ourselves to impose requirements on developing countries." Otherwise, the environment could be seen as a "ploy to hold [them] back."

Ms Bjerregaard referred specifically to the upcoming World Trade Organisation negotiations in Seattle in November, at which the European Commission wants sustainable development to form a central benchmark (ENDS Daily 8 July). At last month's meeting of the WTO's committee on trade and the environment, several leading Third World countries - including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - opposed extending the agenda to such issues and spoke of their fears of a new "green protectionism" by the industrialised world.

This group argues that agreements from the previous ministerial round in Uruguay, particularly those relating to imbalances between the First and Third worlds, should be fully implemented before the scope is expanded to cover so-called "millennium" issues. While not agreeing with this approach, Ms Bjerregaard warned that industrialised countries - as the "principal source of the major environmental problems confronting humanity all over the world" - must be seen to take the lead in tackling them.

She went on to voice her concern about slow environmental progress in the eastern European countries which have applied to join the EU. "First wave" accession countries "need to throw themselves much more forcefully into the task" of introducing and complying with relevant EU legislation, she said.

These countries are likely to have "very long transition periods" with "negative implications for present and future EU environmental policy," Ms Bjerregaard warned. Existing member countries will have less incentive to implement policies, and there will be less inclination to strengthen environmental policy further, she said. Her statements echo the mood of the EU environment ministers' informal meeting in Weimar in May, when opinion hardened about the need for stricter compliance by aspirant EU members (ENDS Daily 10 May).

Ms Bjerregaard said legislation on urban wastewater, waste incineration, drinking water and nature protection was proving particularly hard to implement. Poland, in particular, seemed to be "completely lacking in any strategy," and had not embarked on a systematic planning exercise, she said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. References: Ms Bjerregaard's newsletter

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