Six countries’ environments to benefit from joining the European Environment Agency

Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Malta, Slovenia and Slovakia’s entry to the EEA marks the first time that former Communist states have gained admission and makes the Agency the first European Union body to take in accession countries.

Agency membership will give the six nations, all European Union candidate countries, the tools to monitor their environment consistently. It will place them in a better position to measure how effectively the new environmental laws they are putting into place ahead of EU membership are being implemented and how their natural areas and biological diversity are being preserved and enhanced.

The announcement on 31 July, brings the EEA’s membership to 24 and the remaining seven candidates for EU membership — the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Turkey — will become members of the Agency once they, too, ratify their EEA membership agreements, which is anticipated over the next few months. The move will expand the geographical area of its membership by 50% and the population it covers by 45%.

The EEA says that reflecting the different environmental characteristics of the additional area covered and the priorities of its new members, issues like water stress, transboundary air pollution, forests and biodiversity are likely to become even more important. Enlargement will also bring a new focus on the sustainability of such regions as the Danube catchment area, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

While the Agency has been working with most of the candidate countries since 1996 on specific projects with support from the EU’s Phare programme, EEA membership will allow their full and permanent integration into the Agency’s activities and decision-making.

For the EEA, a more regular flow of data and information from the new member countries will allow improvements in the coverage and quality of its environmental and sustainable development assessments for policymakers.

“Today is an historic day for the European Environment Agency,” said EEA Executive Director Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán. “We are proud to be the first EU body to make enlargement a reality, and not least to welcome states that for most of the second half of the 20th century were separated by political barriers from the rest of Europe. As these nations move into the European mainstream, the great challenge is to ensure the continued protection and enhancement of their rich natural heritage and to help them avoid certain insensitive types of development that, as EEA reports regularly document, are putting such pressure on the environment in western Europe.”

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