The three, all front-line accession countries, have, in return, agreed to implement far fewer transition periods for directives than they had previously wanted. At the EU accession conference, the Czech Republic agreed to slash the number of policies requiring transition periods from seven to two and Hungary and Estonia agreed to settle for four, far fewer than they had wanted. The new deal follows a similar settlement for Slovenia, which agreed a timetable earlier this year and was the first accession nation to do so.

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, which will entail considerable expenditure on improved sewage treatment, is to enjoy the longest implementation periods. It will come into effect in 2010 in the Czech Republic and Estonia, and 2015 in Hungary.

Other deadlines include 2005 for the Packaging Waste Directive, for both the Czech Republic and Hungary, with Hungary also being allowed a derogation of the packaging waste directive until the end of 2004.

Estonia is pledged to implement the Landfill Waste Directive by the end of 2009, the Drinking Water Directive by 2013 and a directive on volatile organic compounds by 2006.

Proposed structural aid for the applicant countries amounts to some one billion euros (£600 million) per year for 2000-2006, mainly intended to align the applicant countries with EC infrastructure standards, particularly in transport and the environment.

Meanwhile, the NGOs Friends of the Earth (FOE) Europe and the CEE Bankwatch Network have criticised the sustainability of pre-accession funds being donated to Central and Eastern European countries in a new report, Billions for Sustainability? II. The report states that in sectors such as agriculture or transport, pre-accession funds are usually meant to support intensified production or expansion of the Trans-European Network, which are mainly highways, both “unsustainable” practices.

“Trends in the EU towards reorientation of its own policies to integrate environmental and sustainability criteria are not acknowledged by the current set-up of the pre-accession funds,” commented FOE Europe’s Accession Project Co-ordinator, Magda Stoczkiewicz. “If the accession countries are to repeat all the past mistakes of current EU countries then they will also suffer the same ‘lock-in’ to unsustainable practises, wasting more than only time.”

The report calls for the revision of national and regional sectoral policies regarding guidelines for pre-accession funds in the spirit of the EU Strategy on Sustainable Development.

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