Environment bill for EU hopefuls questioned

BRUSSELS, Jun 28, 2000 -- (Reuters) The European Union has overestimated the burden of investments needed by eastern European candidate countries to bring their environments into line for membership of the bloc, a think-tank said on Tuesday.

A 1998 assessment cited by the EU has said that eastern candidates will need 120 billion euros to adapt to the tough standards, particularly in the area of water and power legislation.

On the basis of that estimate, candidate countries have said they will need long periods of grace before taking on the EU's standards, meaning that the issue is expected to be one of the toughest to crack in the EU's expansion talks.

But the Center for European Policy Studies said in a report presented to the European Commission the figure could be revised downwards, making negotiations on the environment less difficult than expected.

It said the bill for the manufacturing industry would be lower than expected as part of these countries' capital stock will have been replaced anyway to achieve the quality, productivity and energy efficiency necessary to compete in the EU's single market.

It said the investment burden for the public sector could also be lessened by transferring it to privatized utilities, relieving the strain on the public purse.

The EU is already at an advanced stage of negotiations with Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia along with the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Talks with six other countries Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Malta only started in March and the EU still has to broach difficult issues like the environment.

The EU's Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on Tuesday that the environment, along with agriculture and the free movement of people, was expected to be one of the most difficult issues in the expansion talks.

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