Environmental preparations for EU membership

Milos Kuzvart

In this week's edition of Talking Point, Nick Carey takes a look at the Czech Republic's progress in cleaning up its environment on the way towards accession to the European Union.

On its way towards joining the European Union, the Czech Republic, like the other eleven hopefuls working towards gaining entry to the EU, has to negotiate thirty one chapters of legislation before the process of ratifying membership treaties and the referendums in candidate countries on whether or not to join the Union can take place. One of the most sensitive chapters is that of the environment. The Czech Republic's local environment, like that in the other post-communist EU candidate countries in the region, was left in a terrible state after forty years of communism. Therefore, experts and officials alike had predicted that concluding this chapter would be a very tough task for the Czechs.

But earlier this month, Czech negotiators concluded talks on this chapter with EU representatives, which caught some environmental observers by surprise. Jindrich Petrlik of Greenpeace: The agreement hammered out between the Czech Republic and the European Union includes three transition periods whereby the Czech government has been granted more time to bring environmental standards in the country up to par with the EU. These include provisions for recycling and the creation of proper water purifying systems throughout the country. Originally, the Czech Republic wanted far more than three transition periods. Former environment minister Martin Bursik believes that this is fair deal, and that the EU was right to reject Czech calls for leniency in some areas:

Milos Kuzvart
Czech Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart has stated several times in the recent past that costs for creating water treatment facilities could reach up to 100 billion Czech crowns, or more than 2.5 billion US dollars. Jindrich Petrlik of Greenpeace believes it would be cheaper and more practical to invest in cleaning up industrial waste and thereby removing the need for water treatment plants: But Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart insists that this investment is unavoidable if European Union standards are to be met: One thing that almost all commentators and environmentalists have agreed on is that the conclusion of this EU chapter will benefit Czech environmental legislation, as old standards are gradually replaced. Vojtech Kotecky of Friends of the Earth: But although the environment chapter has been closed, it won't be all plain sailing for passing the necessary legislation through parliament. According to former environment minister Martin Bursik, although the cabinet passes environmental measures, the Environment Ministry is failing to build bridges with the ministries that can help create support for environmental legislation: The Environment Minister, Milos Kuzvart, admits that the fight to have green legislation passed is far from over, as there are powerful industrial lobbies, as there are the world over, who do not want to invest in environmentally friendly processes: Despite frequent problems on a national level with passing new ecologically sound laws, on a community level in the Czech Republic there is growing backing for green policies:
Although environmental groups admire many of the EU's ecological policies, they do not believe that it goes as far enough, in part, says Martin Bursik, because of the fact that the policies of fifteen member states have to be taken into account: One EU policy that environmentalists are fundamentally opposed to is its laissez faire approach to nuclear power. The question of nuclear energy has been a tense issue between the Czechs and their Austrian neighbours over the Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia. Over the past year, Austria, an EU member state and staunchly nuclear-free country, threatened several times to block the environment chapter, and therefore Czech EU membership, if the Czech government did not abandon plans to put Temelin on-line. But despite initial concerns in the Czech Republic, the Austrian government eventually acquiesced on the issue. As some EU member states are heavily reliant on nuclear power, such as France, it comes as no surprise to ecologists that this is not an issue for gaining EU membership. Vojtech Kotecky of Friends of the Earth: Ecologists believe that one problem the EU is going to have to deal with in the coming years, especially after expansion, is common agricultural policy. According to Vojtech Kotecky, following recent food scares and the environmental impact of Western farming methods, this will become a major issue: