On balance, is the EU’s enlargement likely to have a positive or negative effect
on the quality of the European environment?
As part of the accession process to create the enlarged European Union, applicants
will have to adopt all existing EU environmental legislation, which on the most part is
much more meticulous than anything already existing in the applicant countries. The thesis of this essay is that these stricter environmental rules and standards will improve the quality of air and water and have a massive positive effect on public health in the candidate countries. They will render the management of waste more efficient and protect areas of special natural value. Less transboundary pollution in the air and in the waterways will mean cleaner environment not only for the candidate countries, but also for the current Member States. Thus in a very direct way, implementing EU environmental directives in the candidate countries will benefit all Europeans and the environment in which they live. Furthermore the prospect of enlargement has also forced existing Member States to adapt its own environmental policy to make it more environmentally friendly, which is also to the benefit of Europe.
The EU formally launched the enlargement process in March 1998, and negotiations regarding the environment were opened in 1999. Even before official opening, most candidates had started to prepare for accession by transposing the EU environmental laws into national law, although rarely in a systematic way. By the end of 2001 the accession negotiations on the environment were provisionally concluded with nine countries - Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Considering the extent of work necessary, progress has been very fast.
The enlargement of the EU to include ten new Member States from central and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean is a major strategic challenge - not only to the development and implementation of environmental policies in these countries. Adopting environmental legislation and approximating to EU requirements is only the beginning of a process for Candidate Countries. They must be backed up by effective implementation and enforcement, which presents a major challenge to each of the countries. Studies have shown a wide divergence in readiness to implement EU legislation, with some governments having significant problems in implementing measures such as the integrated pollution prevention and control directive. However a study on the benefits of compliance with the environmental legislation for candidate countries presented an analysis of the benefits at three levels - qualitative, quantitative and monetary, and suggests that the benefits of compliance are of the same scale, if not larger, than the costs of implementing the directives of the EU environmental legislation.
The European Commission has adopted a plan on environmental financing in the EU Candidate Countries. The Communication examines the financial challenges that compliance with EU environmental legislation will pose for the countries preparing to join the Union, and gives guidance on how to best meet them. It recommends candidate countries to develop coherent and prioritised investment strategies. It proposes criteria for setting the priorities, and encourages the countries to leverage available funds to make the most of scarce resources.
The Communication describes how Community technical assistance will focus on those areas where preparations for compliance have been lagging behind, such as air pollution projects and directives involving private sector expenditure. The EU will also work closely with Candidate Countries on their directive-specific financing plans for problem areas in waste and air pollution and training for local authorities.