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Addressing environment ministers from Central and Eastern Europe candidate countries on 26 November – as well as Malta’s environment minister, whose country has begun its environmental accession programme – EC Environment minister Margot Wallström acknowledged the enormity of the task of bringing candidate countries’ environmental legislation and enforcement in line with EU standards. “It is becoming ever more evident that the environment is going to be one of the most demanding topics within the enlargement negotiations,” said Wallström. “While extensive work is ongoing in all candidate countries, the picture is bleak and very mixed on real progress. There is no time to be wasted if the major part of this transition process is to be completed, say, by the end of 2003.”

Wallström promised candidate countries that her department will provide as much technical and financial support as possible, including a manual for implementation and enforcement authorities.

Despite the environmental challenges posed by the EU’s proposed acceleration of Central and Eastern European countries’ accession, Wallström asked environment ministers to focus on the benefits such changes will bring. “We have conducted a major survey and analysis of the economic benefits of implementing EU environmental requirements in your countries,” she said. “Pure economic benefits of required investments will outweigh the costs. And all of this is in addition to the environmental and health benefits.”

Results of the survey will be available in a few weeks.

Fears that the environment will be pushed aside in the rush to enlarge the EU (see related story) are being counteracted by the Environment ministry, and schemes to increase the awareness of EU environmental legislation at a local government level in Central and Eastern Europe are being developed. One such scheme is the Cities Towards European Union Compliance Award.

The awards have been issued to eight Central and Easter European cities that have shown “outstanding progress in the fields of water quality, air quality, access to environmental information and/or waste management”. The 1999 winners are:

  • Elblag, on the Polish Baltic Sea
  • Kecskemet, south of Budapest in Hungary
  • Bourgas, a sea port on the Bulgarian Black Sea
  • Ramnincu Valcea, west of Bucharest in Romania
  • Maribor in Slovenia
  • Parnu, on the Estonian Baltic Sea
  • Spisska Nova Ves, in north eastern Slovakia
  • Svitavy, a small town in Czech

The awards, which will be given annually, attracted 215 applications and the 20 most advanced cities were visited by a selection committee. The EC Environment DG hopes the awards will raise awareness of EU environment legislation at a local government level in all candidate countries.

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