EU environmental accession talks begin

Commission rejects long transition periods on sewage treatment, waste, packaging

The EU began formal talks with the six front-running prospective new members on the environmental terms of entry this week by telling them to rethink several requests for long derogations from some of its key laws. In a paper presented in Brussels on Tuesday, the Commission gave its first concrete indication of how hard it will push accession countries to bring their legislation into line with existing standards.

All six countries - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus - have called for extra time to meet EU standards in at least some areas. The EU has asked for further "substantiation" and "justification" for virtually all the requests. In some cases it rejects them and calls on countries to review their positions by the end of next month.

Hungary was told to rethink its demand for a 14-year delay in complete the capital-intensive implementation of the urban wastewater treatment directive. The EU said it must shorten this period to "fully reflect the priorities of the directive". Estonia and Slovenia have been told to think again over requests for 10-year derogations from the same directive.

Lowest tolerance is granted on laws most affecting the internal market, nature protection, industrial pollution control and framework directives. A demand from Slovenia for more time to reduce the heavy metal content of its packaging, for example, was rejected by the EU as it "may create environmental pressures in other member states and affect the internal market."

Most of the countries also want to delay implementation of a directive on integrated pollution control at industrial installations beyond the existing deadline of 2007, some asking for exemptions for up to five years. The Commission asked them to explain how they would "address the negative effects" of delayed implementation, including transboundary effects and potential distortion of competition."

Poland, criticised on several occasions recently by Ms Wallström for having made little recent progress on environment, came off worst in the analysis. It has made the most requests for transition periods but has been told to rethink demands for an extra 10 years to comply with framework waste and hazardous waste directives. A request to review all derogation periods after joining the Union was also rebuffed as it "could lead to open-ended transitional measures" feared by some existing EU countries and many NGOs.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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