At a meeting held in Brussels yesterday, environmental inspectors from EU countries and all 10 central and eastern European (CEE) accession countries and Cyprus, together with European Commission officials, endorsed the creation of AC Impel.
The new organisation has been modelled on Impel, the EU informal network of environmental inspectors, which aims to improve the implementation and enforcement of environmental laws.
According to an official involved in creating AC Impel, the new network will play a valuable part in helping countries due to join the EU to improve their practical application of environmental laws. The CEE countries have lower environmental standards than the EU in most areas and - crucially - less developed systems for implementation and enforcement.
The official told ENDS Daily that the new network will help the countries in their efforts to comply with EU environmental legislation - the so-called acquis communautaire - before they join the Union. When it published its Agenda 2000 proposals for EU enlargement last July, the European Commission noted that accession countries faced big problems in this area (ENDS Daily 16 July 1997).
EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard said at the time that it was inconceivable that the EU would reduce its environmental standards to welcome in new members from the east, but equally inconceivable that CEE countries could achieve EU standards in the foreseeable future. AC Impel is being seen by participants as one plank in a strategy to bridge this gap.
Officially, AC Impel will be independent from the EU Impel network and will not share its secretariat, which is based in European Commission offices. However, it is likely to have close links and to benefit from the latter's increasing visibility and strength. Several practices developed in Impel are already set to be taken up by CEE countries.
One is a series of exchange visits by environmental inspectors to partner countries. CEE country inspectors have already attended one Impel exchange meeting, held in Luxembourg last autumn. The practice will now become standard. In addition, AC Impel countries will hold their own exchange visits, the first of which will be hosted in February by the Hungarian government.
Impel secretariat, tel: +32 2 296 7191.
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