Enlargement 2004 – Environment policy implications

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The report argues that the new Member States’ predictable insistence on transitional periods for revising pertinent legislation will “dramatically” slow down the EU’s environment policy development.

The ten new member states will slow down policy development dramatically. They will also insist on and receive transitional periods for a raft of upcoming legislation such as revised packaging waste rules, electronic waste and the new chemicals strategy. They are also expected to find it very difficult to implement legislation on access to information and justice due to a lack of tradition of openness or public consultation.

Policy development in the environmental field is expected to be slowed sharply by the expansion of the EU. Entry of the new member states will “put the brakes on quite early,” said one Commission official, as they strongly resist extra rules that would increase costs or require extra investment not covered by EU funding. None of the new members is, as one official remarked, a “green country.”

The new members are expected to ask for – and receive – lengthy transition periods on a raft of existing legislation such as revised packaging waste rules, electronic waste and the new chemicals strategy. They are also expected to find it very difficult to implement legislation on access to information and justice given their lack of tradition in openness and public consultation. Environment ministers and ministries in the acceding countries are seen as weak within their governments – especially in relation to transport policy, which has a major impact on the environment. While administrations are viewed by their Commission counterparts as able, if under-staffed and under-resourced.

While the new members are not expected to form a bloc within the Council of Ministers, officials expect that they will behave very much as Ireland, Greece and Portugal, which also face problems on the environment. “The group arguing for the speeding up of environmental legislation will be less powerful,” forecast one official.

Reliance on transition periods

New members are expected by Commission staff to seek extended transitional periods for new rules where there are cost or investment implications. Officials predict that new members will use this tactic for the revision of the packaging waste rules – which will only be agreed after accession – where all accession countries except Estonia asked for delays on complying with the existing rules. The European Commission accepts that new members will need more time to set up recycling systems, which are an important part of the new waste strategy. Three existing member states have already been granted an additional period to do the necessary work.

Problems with new chemicals strategy

The new chemicals strategy, which the Commission is expected to propose formally in October 2003, at the earliest, is unlikely to result in new members marking themselves out as its biggest critics. Already there have been loud protests from the bigger existing member states, such as Germany. Instead, the new members are expected to seek transition periods to allow their industries to adjust to ending the manufacture or use of certain products. The new members will also have problems with the testing requirements due to the costs involved.

Officials forecast that one consequence of the new members and their attitude to environmental policy will be to force the Commission to make even greater use of framework legislation rather than detailed specific rules in order to accommodate the differences of the new members.

Environment ministries weak in accession country governments

Commission staff expect the new members to play a low-key role in environmental policy. They point out that at the national level environment ministers and ministries are relatively weak within most of the countries. “The environmental sector in the new member states is not strongly developed,” an official explaine d. “Environmental departments don’t have a high profile within the administrations so they don’t have an independent environmental policy.” Initially it is expected that the new members will also take a low-key role to ensure that they secure all the funding to which they are entitled from the EU budget.

A test of the future of environmental policy development will be whether the new member states will be able to integrate environmental policy objectives into other policy areas, as suggested by the Sixth Environmental Action Programme. Officials believe that environment ministers will have a tough fight, particularly against transport ministers.

Praise for quality of staff but concern over Poland

Commission staff praise the quality of environment officials in the new member states, singling out the Slovenians, the Cypriots and the Maltese, and highlight the improvements in staffing levels and resources in recent years to prepare for accession. “Environmental authorities are much stronger than they were five years ago,” said an official. But problems still remain, especially in Poland, where the country’s recent decentralization programme has been said to create problems of communication and efficiency.

Commission to be tough on failure to implement

What likelihood is there of candidate members achieving EU standards by the time they join the EU? The outlook seems mixed. Some officials are relatively optimistic that the candidate countries will meet most of their targets, especially where EU funding has been available to raise standards. But the Commission warns that it will be very tough when the new states fall short of targets. “The Commission will be very strict because the political need to get into the EU has dominated practical reality,” said one expert. Another warned, “we will be very tough on trade and market-related issues.”

Read the complete report, entitled

Enlargement 2004 – Big Bang and Aftershocks, on Burson-Marsteller’s web site.  

Subscribe to our newsletters