Czechs complete EU environment chapter

The Czech Republic's preparations for EU membership are a constant source of news for the Czech media, and in recent times disputes over labour rights and property have dominated the headlines. But it was good news for a change at the weekend, as the Czech Republic concluded the environment chapter of legislation in accession talks with the EU on Friday, with three transition periods to give the Czechs more time to meet EU standards. Nick Carey has this report:

The three transition periods that the EU agreed to in talks with Czech negotiators are an extra six years to clean up the Czech Republic's waste water system, one year to improve recycling programmes and eight years to clean up antiquated waste incinerators. Czech Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart expressed his delight with the news, saying that EU pressure has helped the Czechs pass legislation that has made the completion of this chapter possible.

Jindrich Petrlik of Greenpeace is surprised at this development, but says it shows a willingness on the part of the Czech government to deal with environmental issues:

"I am somewhat surprised, because I thought that it would take more time to finish this chapter of talks between the Czech Republic and the EU. But, I have to say that I am glad that the Czech Republic is willing to fulfil the EU's requirements concerning the environment, because it will improve our legislation and I am sure that it will also improve the environment in the Czech Republic."

But Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart has warned of tough times ahead for the Czechs in meeting EU requirements, especially when it comes to cleaning up the country's waste water processing network. Mr Kuzvart recently announced that this will cost taxpayers up to 100 billion Czech crowns, or two and a half billion US dollars. Greenpeace's Jindrich Petrlik agrees with this estimate, but believes it would be better to clean up industrial production:

"I think this is the correct estimate, but I don't think that we have to invest so much money. I would prefer reducing waste production in the Czech Republic, but this should have been done some years ago. I would prefer cleaner forms of production in industry and so on, and then we won't need to spend so much money on purification systems."

One of the obstacles that threatened to block the completion of this chapter is Austrian opposition to the Temelin nuclear power plant in Southern Bohemia. Austria has backed down on threats to block EU accession over the issue, which has disappointed environmentalists, but with several EU member states advocating nuclear power, this comes as no surprise to some:

"The EU includes states like France which is a strong promoter of nuclear energy. So, it is clear that the EU will not have such strict requirements on nuclear energy. It's a disappointment for environmental groups, but not everything will be better for the environment when we join the EU."