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Is enlargement an opportunity for Environmental Protection?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#493-494
Special: Agenda 2000: Will it increase nuclear safety in Eastern Europe?
19/06/1998
Article

(June 19, 1998) It is generally recognized that in most areas, the standard of environmental protection in the accession countries is lower than that of the present member-states. Research carried out for the Regional Environmental Center (REC) in 1996 calculated that the environmental legislation of 10 Central and Eastern European countries complied with about half of that of the European Union 16.22

The Commission outlines its position on accession and the environment in a document23 which lists the 70 or so directives and 21 regulations which make up the body of EU legislation to which the new members will have to align their national legislation and administrative practices, too, the so-called environmental acquis. The legislation, European Union directives and regulations on nuclear issues that form the environmental acquis as of July 1, 1997, consists of 10 key directives and regulations. (For more on the accession criteria and the key directives on Nuclear Safety: "The History of the Accesion Program".) The Commission has stated that "while the adoption of the Union's environmental rules and standards is essential, none of the candidate countries can be expected to comply fully with the acquis in the near future, given their present environmental problems and the need for massive investments". 24
The calculation of the investment-costs for compliance with the environmental acquis is extremely complex and one which will probably be revised several times. The European Parliament reports that the Commission has estimated that the total cost of the environmental acquis is 120 billion ECU.25
It has recognized that the areas of environmental legislation which would take the longest time and be the most expensive to implement are those associated with public utilities, in particularly; water sector; energy sector; and waste-management sector. 26

The Commission accepts that national governments are unlikely to be able to make the environmental investments necessary and so the PHARE program is to be reorientated to assist with preaccession. In total, for the years 2000-2006, the total EU pre-accession assistance is proposed to be 21 billion ECU. According to Commissioner Bjerregaard, approximately 7 billion ECU for the period 2000-2006 (or 1 billion a year) will be dedicated to environmental assistance.27 Consequently, the PHARE program would only be able to contribute about 5% of what is estimated to be required (7 from the 120). It is expected that the combined budgets of the national governments and the Commission's PHARE program would be insufficient for all the required investments. The Commission therefore proposes that a two-fold approach be taken to tackle the predicted shortfall:
 

  1. In partnership with the Union, realistic national long-term strategies for gradual alignment are drawn up and incorporated into accession treaties;
  2. Foreign and domestic investments, especially from the private sector are mobilized in support of these strategies. The Commission notes that all new investments should comply with the acquis.

The Commission, while accepting the economic and technical challenges that full application of the acquis will bring, emphasizes the dangers of failing to act and notes the following areas in particular:

  • A persistent gap between the levels of environmental protection in the present and new members. This would distort the functioning of the single market and could lead to a projectionist reaction.
  • The non-uniform application of EU environmental standards, which undermines their existence and would lead to widespread non-compliance.

Although the environmental protection standards in present EU states may be higher than that of new members, the present standards within the Union are far from 'sustainable'. In a significant number of areas, nuclear safety standards and water quality, to name but two, considerable investments would be required to reduce and eliminate environmental damage. There is a danger that enlargement could be used as an excuse to slow down investments to reduce environmental damage within existing member states.28