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Brussels, 20 May 1998

How to meet European Union's Environmental Standards in Central and Eastern Europe

Within the European Union's (EU) reinforced pre-accession strategy and as a follow-up to Agenda 2000, the European Commission adopted a Communication on accession strategies for the environment in the candidate countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The Communication aims to complement the Accession Partnerships, and to provide assistance to the candidate countries in the refinement of their National Programmes for the Adoption of the Acquis. A key message is that compliance with the EU environmental acquis is justified both for environmental and economic reasons. But effective, prioritised management of the approximation process is crucial, because of the limited resources, and therefore requires careful strategic planning and cost-effective programmes.

1. Background

In Agenda 2000 the Commission concluded that to achieve full compliance with the environmental acquis will be one of the major challenges for accession for all candidate countries in Central and Eastern Europe and probably only achievable in the long term.   Based on first estimates, the total investment costs of meeting the environmental acquis are likely to be around ECU 100-120 billion for all the ten candidate countries. The bulk of the investments will be needed for air pollution abatement, water and waste water management and management and disposal of municipal and hazardous waste.   Against this background, Agenda 2000 proposed that:

- Before accession the candidate countries should, in partnership with the EU, draw up and start implementing - realistic national long-term strategies for gradual and effective alignment with the environmental acquis, in particular for tackling water and air pollution.

- These long-term national strategies should include (1) key priority areas, (2) objectives to be fulfilled by the dates of accession and (3) timetables for further full compliance.

Corresponding obligations should be incorporated in the accession treaties.

All new investments should comply with the acquis. 

This special strategy for adoption and implementation of the environmental acquis should be combined with a reinforced EU pre-accession assistance strategy where investment for adoption of the environmental acquis is one of the priorities, recognising that the EU's financial assistance will only cover a minor part of the resources required.

2. The aim

The Communication examines some of the practical questions which the Commission believes that the candidate countries should take into account when further developing their national strategies for achieving full compliance with the environmental acquis.   This examination does not prejudge the allocation of the future pre-accession facilities nor the accession negotiations, or the scope and duration of transitional arrangements that might be the result of these negotiations.

3. The countries

The Communication focuses on issues related to the ten candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe only. The situation for Cyprus is different both with respect to the economic and historical background of this country and to the European Union instruments for financial co-operation. Issues related to the adoption of the environment acquis by Cyprus will be dealt with in a separate document at a later stage.

4. The contents

Chapter 1 gives with a brief survey of the major challenges facing the candidate countries in the environmental approximation process: the legislative challenge of aligning national environmental legislation with the EU acquis. The institutional challenge of strengthening and adapting national administrative and institutional structures to ensure adequate implementation of the legislation. The main sector specific challenges related to air and water quality, waste management, industrial pollution control and nuclear safety. And finally the overall financial challenge of meeting the acquis. Chapter 2 discusses the question on how to set the priorities for the environmental approximation process. Based on an analysis of the specific environmental problems, the legislative and administrative gaps and the financial implications different priorities have to be considered and reconciled within the overall process of approximation. Mechanisms to ensure full compliance with EU standards for all new investments are considered as well the priorities in relation to nuclear safety issues in the candidate countries.

Chapter 3 presents a survey of EU assistance instruments and programmes which can contribute to the countries efforts to meet EU environmental standards. These include funding and assistance programmes to mobilise further resources for environmental improvements, to assist and advice the countries in the environmental approximation process and to support implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation. The importance of ensuring co-ordination of EU assistance and bilateral assistance from Member States is underlined.  Key conclusions of the Communication are summarised in the last chapter.

Two Annexes to the Communication include (1) a survey of first estimates of costs of environmental compliance and (2) advice on key steps to follow in the development of national programmes for implementation and monitoring of the environmental acquis.

5. Some key messages

  • The efforts which the candidate countries in Central and Eastern Europe have to undertake in order to achieve full compliance with the environmental acquis of the EU are considerable.   These efforts are justified not only for environmental, but also for economic reasons. The implementation of the environmental acquis will result in modern and more efficient industries, energy production and improved and cost-effective urban environmental infrastructure services.   However, in spite of clear economic benefits from these investments quick implementation will be difficult due to the scarce financial and other resources.  As the financial assistance from the EU will only cover a minor part of all the resources required, effective, prioritised management of the approximation process is crucial and will require careful strategic planning and cost-effective programmes in the candidate countries.   The EU's financial assistance can have a catalytic effect in mobilising other resources. In order to maximise this leverage and to avoid ad hoc subsidising of investments, a comprehensive financial strategy and operational modalities for the use of EU financing instruments should be established within the framework of the Accession Partnerships and the National Programmes for the Adoption of the Acquis.

6. Statements by Commissioners Bjerregaard and van den Broek

Upon the adoption of the Communication by the European Commission, the two Commissioners responsible respectively for Environment and Enlargement, said:  Ritt Bjerregaard: " Environment will be a greater challenge in the forthcoming enlargement with the countries in Central and Eastern Europe than in any previous enlargement. However, if handled in a forward-looking manner, the environmental approximation process also entails great opportunities for the candidate countries and the rest of Europe. It is not a luxury that can wait for later consideration. Environmental compliance should be integrated in the ongoing process of transition and adaptation to free market economy in candidate countries right from the start. All Europe stand to gain from such an approach." 

Hans van den Broek: "As financial resources will be limited, it is important to ensure that the external assistance is focused, co-ordinated and targeted so we achieve the greatest possible benefit. The process of environmental approximation should be seen as an integrated element in the overall strategy for accession in the candidate countries. Compliance with the EU environmental acquis is necessary both for environmental and economic reasons."

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