Report says EU aid to be spent on anti-environment projects

A new report by non-governmental organisations claims that secretive management of European Union financial aid to central and east European countries raises risks that money will be wasted on environmentally-unfriendly projects.

Friends of the Earth and CEE Bankwatch, an NGO which monitors activities of International Financial Institutions in Eastern Europe, said on 8 November that there were ‘already signs’ that billions of euros in aid was earmarked for roads and agribusinesses without sufficient consideration of their potential impact.

The report, Billions for Sustainability? claims that “from the information which we can currently obtain, it is clear that there is insufficient integration of sustainable development principles in the prepared national strategies.”

The report, published as the EU Executive issued a positive assessment of the membership prospects of ten so-called ‘accession countries’ in Eastern Europe, said the Czech Republic was the only one of the ten that carried out environmental impact assessments during planning.

“The experience of the last ten years within the EU with structural and cohesion funds for Greece, Portugal or Spain was that the money was not spent in a very clever way, to say the least, or gone in the direction of corruption,” Friends of the Earth Project Coordinator Martin Rocholl said. He added that the two groups would like to see civil society participating in preparing guidelines and selecting projects.

The EU has committed around three billion euros (£1.8 billion) a year for the next six years to help accession countries prepare for membership. It recently announced a preliminary list of major infrastructure projects in the various candidate states that it plans to co-finance (see related story).

In another finance-related row, the European Investment Bank has defended itself against accusations from NGOs in central and eastern Europe that it does not take enough account of environmental considerations when financing infrastructure projects. The bank is facing accusations that projects including major city bypasses in Hungary and Poland have received EIB loans without adequate environmental impact assessments.

The bank’s Brussels representative Dominic de Crayencour told the European Parliament: “It’s not correct to conclude that projects the EIB finances are harmful for the environment.” He said all the projects the bank financed were assessed according to EU environmental impact assessment legislation and were approved by the European Commission. “The bank can and does refuse projects that are not adequate. No projects with significant negative impacts on the environment will be financed,” he added. But he conceded that claims that its procedures lacked transparency could be justified: “We’ve not always been good, we agree, but we want to change and evolve.”

The EU candidate countries are; Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

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