Member states show flexibility over green test for applicants

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Series Details Vol 7, No.16, 19.4.01, p15
Publication Date 19/04/2001
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Date: 19/04/01

By Simon Taylor

SPRING is in the air and the Swedish presidency is celebrating the first fruits of its efforts to drive the enlargement process forward.

The Swedes initial negotiating session with the applicant countries during their six month stint running EU business delivered on two priorities: enlargement and environment.

Slovenia became the first candidate to close negotiations on eco-standards, widely seen as one of the most challenging areas for the applicant states, with their legacy of heavy industries and poor pollution control. Ljubljana succeeded in wrapping up talks despite maintaining its requests for some delays before meeting Union rules on oil reserves, urban waste water treatment and packaging rules.

Slovenia has benefited from a flexible approach from the Union over demands for transition periods which recognise the difficulty of raising the necessary investment to bring standards up to scratch.

As Enlargement Commissioner G√ľnter Verheugen explained at a recent seminar: "[On environment] financially and technically [the changes] cannot be done overnight. If you say no transition periods you're saying no to accession before 2010."

More importantly, member states are prepared to be more relaxed about granting candidates extra time to meet Union standards if the delays do not give their domestic industries a cost advantage.

"[Transition periods do] not affect competition very much because the comparative cost benefits are very, very limited," Verheugen explained.

This approach has already benefited the Slovenians and the EU is clearly planning to use their success as inspiration to other candidates. "We can use the Slovenians as a model for the other applicant countries to show them that with the right preparation they can close environment," said one Union enlargement official.

Poland's chief negotiator Jan Kulakowski said last week that despite the difficulties of the environment chapter, he hoped to close this area of negotiations by the summer.

"The Polish side has presented new explanations and information which has allowed us to bring our two positions closer together as far as the majority of Polish requests for transition periods," he claimed.

Warsaw has modified over half its demands for delays, especially in areas affecting the single market. Poland had also tabled 16 plans for bringing its environmental standards up to EU levels, Kulakowski pointed out.

Despite the challenges posed by the environment chapter, hopes are high among Union diplomats that more candidates should be able to close negotiations in this area by the end of the year at the latest.

The citizens may have to wait five or ten years until they enjoy the same air and water quality as their neighbours in the current EU member states. But eco-standards will not be the obstacle to enlargement that many feared.

Article forms part of a survey on the environment.

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