According to this first assessment, some countries have made strong progress, but others are stagnating, including several of the five applicants expected to join the EU in a first wave.
Data gathered on Hungary revealed a need to increase and train government environment staff, particularly in the regional inspectorates, which will be responsible for implementing the EU's 1994 directive on pollution prevention and control. Poland's environment ministry suffers from a high staff turnover due to low salaries, the report found. Moreover, it advised that the country's government to concentrate its efforts on reinforcing the monitoring infrastructure in air and water sectors, while strengthening capacity at a regional and local level.
The report also firmly admonished Slovenia, another first round contender, for failing to reform and consolidate its environmental inspectorates and enforcement system.
"There has been a feeling of a slowdown in pre-accession strategies and the getting in place of legislation needed," Jesper Jorgensen, an official in the Commission's environment directorate told ENDS Daily. The trend was particularly noticeable in the first wave of accession countries, he said.
"The Czech Republic gave the impression that everything was good and fine - but it was not," Mr Jorgensen added. The report said there had been little progress in the Czech Republic's administrative reform in the environment ministry since last July. It advised that administrative structures must continue to be strengthened and adoption of the acquis must speed up.
Poor progress by the five front runners has also been noticed by the Budapest-based Regional Environmental Center (REC), which coordinates environmental projects throughout the CEE region. "If you had assumed that the first five countries were doing better in terms of speed then you'd be wrong," Miroslav Chodak of the REC told ENDS Daily.
Mr Chodak added that the Baltic countries - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - have particularly improved their environmental laws and institutions in recent years, though only Estonia is in the first wave of EU applicants. For example, the progress report found that improvements in Lithuania's air monitoring system would already put the country "totally in line with the requirements of EU legislation".
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