OECD underlines eastern Europe's challenge

Agency warns that environment becoming marginalised, calls for faster institutional reform

The ten central and eastern European countries expected to join the EU over the next decade could take over 20 years to comply with all the Union's environmental rules "and this would still be far from a sustainable pattern of development," the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned in a new report.

According to the OECD, despite the fact that some CEE countries effectively utilised a "window of opportunity" shortly after the collapse of communism to install effective environmental reforms, this has now substantially closed. As a result, it says, the environment remains "weakly established in party political systems and parliaments". Meanwhile, environment ministries "have suffered as much, if not more, than other sectors as government budgets have been tightened".

The environment, the OECD concludes, "has often been marginalised," especially in poorer countries and those where there has been more limited progress in the broader process of economic and political reforms.

Particularly in these countries, but across the whole region, a slow pace of institutional and administrative reform is a major concern, according to the OECD. "In most countries," it says, "the establishment of effective institutions has not kept pace with market liberalisation".

This matters for environmental policy making, the OECD argues, because the importance of establishing effective institutions was underestimated early in the 1990s. For example, it says, several key EU environmental directives specify "command and control" mechanisms for pollution control or require the use of best available technology, "while CEE countries have not had any experience with them".

Despite these generally downbeat findings, the OECD stresses that economic, political and environmental reform policies in CEE countries and ex-Soviet states have been mutually supportive. Economic reforms have freed resources for investment in cleaner technologies while democratic renewal has unlocked demand for environmental improvements, it argues. Meanwhile, environment ministries "have made a significant contribution to support the emergence of civil society".

Particularly in countries where the general pace of reform has been fastest, the report goes on, the results have been significant improvements in environmental quality, particularly through cuts in air and water pollution.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00. References: "Environment in the Transition to a Market Economy".

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