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EU: Officials Discuss Global Environment Strategy With Candidate Nations

Environment ministers from European Union candidate countries gathered in Brussels today for a seventh informal meeting with European Commission officials. Besides assessing candidates' progress in implementing EU laws, today's talks touched on wider global environment strategies.

Brussels, 27 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- European Union candidate countries from Eastern and Central Europe are showing increasing signs of interest in becoming involved in the EU's efforts to combat the effects of climate change and promote environmentally sustainable development.

Candidates are also displaying growing interest in having a say in shaping EU positions on the subject.

Attending an informal meeting with EU officials in Brussels today, environment ministers from the 10 EU candidate countries discussed EU plans to monitor the region's progress in ensuring the sustainability of economic development. In addition, ministers from the candidate countries also suggested a number of additional factors that could be monitored.

They also asked for coordination meetings with EU officials ahead of next September's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Briefing journalists during a break in the meeting, Jean-Paul Verstrynge -- who heads the European Commission's Directorate-General for the Environment -- said the EU has readily agreed to coordination meetings to prepare a so-called "EU Plus 10" platform for Johannesburg.

Verstrynge said the candidate nations subscribe to the EU's overall positions, including a drive toward a global "deal," or "partnership" -- as EU officials prefer to call it -- on sustainable global development. He said the 10 candidate countries also support the EU objective of earmarking 0.7 percent of the region's annual gross domestic product to finance sustainability-related measures.

Verstrynge said several ministers from candidate nations brought up the idea of extending the global development debate -- currently dominated by a North-South perspective -- to take in issues pertaining to East-West relations.

"It's clear that the Rio [de Janeiro climate control] summit in 1992 was mainly about [the] North-South [divide] and that the problems of economies in transition -- which candidate countries are, even if successful -- or even further east, problems of Russia, Ukraine, the Caucasus, have to be taken into account. So [there is] in the conclusions [of today's meeting with candidate countries' environment ministers] a reflection of the fact that these specific problems which economies in transition should also be addressed when we look at sustainable development [at the Johannesburg summit]."

In return, Verstrynge said, the EU has asked candidate nations to speed up ratification procedures for the Kyoto accord on climate change, abandoned earlier this year by the United States. This, he said, is necessary to put pressure on Russia and Japan, which the EU considers key players if the Kyoto process is to have a future.

The European Commission also presented ministers from the candidate nations with a "benefits study" to explain the positive effects of taking over and implementing the EU's extensive environmental legislation.

The study says that the costs -- up to 120 billion euros -- involved in implementing the EU legislation will be offset by economic gains of between 134 to 618 billion euros, assuming full implementation is achieved by 2010.

The study says that in the health sector alone, between 43,000 and 180,000 cases of chronic bronchitis could be avoided, as well as 15,000 to 34,000 premature deaths resulting from the effects of environmental pollution.