European Commission calls for doubling of environmental aid for EU applicants

To overcome the ‘serious challenge’ of meeting EU-acceptable environmental standards, the European Parliament has proposed funding for applicants to double by 2006 and has called for adherence to certain environmental rules pre-entry.

The draft resolution on ‘Environmental aspects of the enlargement negotiations’ of the 13 EU hopefuls presented to the European Parliament’s environment committee on 28 August made several proposals to deal with the “serious challenge both to the applicant countries and to the EU in view of the economic restructuring and adjustment related to environmental performance and sustainable development”.

As well as proposing extra funds, the resolution underlined several EU environmental standards that should be met “at the latest by the day of accession” and the community’s main environmental worries for the Central, Southern and Eastern European applicants.

The report asks the European Commission to negotiate an ‘environmental code of conduct’ with EU based firms operating and/or investing in the applicant countries, which would oblige them to meet EU environmental standards before they apply to businesses native to the 13 nations.

Other EU legislation which should be incorporated into each applicant nation’s laws before accession are those which entail minimal costs, the report says. These include Environmental Impact Assessments, Environmental Information, Animal Welfare legislation and Habitat and Birds Directives. More costly measures are recommended a maximum of five years transition period after accession.

The EC are also requested to make and publish environmental impact assessments of all EU-financed pre-accession projects and plans invested in 13 nations, including those from the European Investment Bank, before putting any funds into operation, echoing fierce criticism directed at the bank by NGOs.

The resolution places special emphasis on biodiversity, which should be considered in all development of infrastructure. The biodiversity of the applicant states is an “economic resource the sustainable exploitation of which carries enormous and long term benefits” and the total size of currently protected areas should “under no circumstances” be reduced from its minimum five percent of the territory. It further recommended that “the five percent be regarded as a minimum rather than a standard, and that the directive be amended to make this clear.”

Special concern for closing nuclear power reactors of the first generation Soviet design is expressed. The nations are also urged to encourage environmentally friendly forestry and agricultural practices, reduce overall levels of air- and water-based pollution, preserve soil quality and other natural resources, and discourage forms of economic activity which lead to the destruction of valuable habitats, such as the draining of wetlands.

Applicant nations currently receive more than 500 million euros (£306 million) annually from the EU for environmental improvement under various programmes, including IPSA, (Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession), which concentrates on large redevelopments, (see related story) and is recommended for replacement by “small, innovative projects”.

The European Parliament has no role in negotiating the terms of accession of new countries to the EU, but can veto the process at its final stage.

The 13 countries seeking to become members of the European Union are: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Turkey. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland could enter the EU as early as 2003, but it could be many years before some of the other nations gain entry.

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