"No exceptions" for CEE country clean-up

EU ministers expect Ecu120bn environmental compliance costs for first five applicants

Countries in central and eastern Europe (CEE) applying to join the EU will be given no special favours when it comes to environment policy, EU environment ministers said at their informal meeting in Graz, Austria this weekend. Applicant countries must do more than just adopt the EU laws and regulations and there must be concrete improvements in environment standards, they warned.

"There will be no special deals for new countries joining the EU," said Ritt Bjerregaard, the EU environment commissioner. "They must accept and also fulfil the Union's standards for the environment. Periods of transition will be the same for everyone with no procrastination or diluting of policy. There will be no exceptions."

The ten states that are looking to join the European Union, were told at the meeting they would be given as short a transition period as possible. "There would be no question of opening the door to enlargement if EU standards were not reached - without exception," said Martin Bartenstein, the Austrian environment minister, who hosted the meeting.

There would be concrete periods of transition, he added. These would be part of the negotiation process, but the main aim would remain having a short a transition period as possible. Bartenstein said that CEE countries were now "part of us," but at the same time it was important that the accession countries adapt national standards to EU levels.

EU ministers said that environmental improvements in the five CEE countries involved in the first wave of expansion would cost around Ecu120bn. "The input from the EU is an important part of the funding but there is no way it will take on all the costs. There is already an agreement to give applicant countries structural money," Bartenstein said.

He said the EU would give Ecu1bn annually from 2000 onwards to help applicant countries bring their environment practices up to EU standards. This is in addition to the Ecu500,000 given to agriculture to help improve its environmental performance. "There is no possibility of more money," he added.

However, Slovenian environment minister Pavel Ganter said he estimated his country would need Ecu2.5bn to implement all EU environmental directives. "And we are better off than the other [CEE] countries wanting to join the Union," he said. "There has to be a transition period....It is by no means certain that all the directives can be fulfilled to the letter."

Austria is expected to press for full negotiations to begin with the first five CEE applicant countries before its term as EU presidency ends in December.

Follow Up:
Austrian environment ministry, tel: +43 1 51522 5050.

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