EU Enlargement and Environmental Quality in Central and Eastern Europe
European Union (EU) accession is no longer a question of if but when for the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. But accession has required these countries to adopt wholesale European regulations on a broad number of topics, including environmental standards and protection. This day-long conference explored the potential effects EU enlargement might have on national and EU environmental quality and policies. Conference participants reflected on the tremendous environmental progress made in many candidate countries since 1995 and expressed guarded optimism about the ultimate environmental consequences of enlargement.
Panel 1: "Implications of EU Eastern Enlargement for the Environment." Miranda Schreurs argued that trends indicate enlargement will push the EU (currently a global environmental leader) to the "highest common denominator" of environmental protection instead of bringing the environmental quality of member countries down to the level of candidates. Joint implementation of environmental standards, she argued, is an important opportunity for cooperation, allowing more developed western countries to invest in environmental protection in the east and gain credit for the Eastern Europe's lower emissions levels. Petr Jehlicka explored candidate countries' potential environmental role in the EU. Indicators show, said Jehlicka, that these nations will adopt a more passive and reactive role to environmental regulation rather than push their own agenda within Europe.
Panel 2: "The Impact of EU Enlargement on Environmental Policies, Practices, and Institutions." Alexander Carius outlined the different priorities of the three institutions (the EU, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) responsible for promoting environmental policy in Central and Eastern Europe. He argued that these institutions need to cooperate more closely on and develop structured and coordinated approaches towards integrated environmental policy in an enlarged EU, particularly with regards to cross-border cooperation. Liliana Botcheva-Andonova examined the effects of EU regulations on industries in the candidate countries, concluding that the integration process has enhanced the already-positive linkages between demand for "green" products and the environment in Eastern and Central Europe. She cautioned, however, that environmental policy and assistance must adapt to the diversity of situations across Eastern and Central Europe. Regina Axelrod highlighted the EU's lack of comprehensive regulations for nuclear reactor issues by recounting the controversy surrounding the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant. Temelin, which is sited close to the Austrian border, has raised tension between the two countries, with Austria threatening to block Czech accession into the EU until the plant's safety is assured.
In a wide-ranging keynote speech entitled "EU Enlargement: Is It Sustainable?" Regional Environmental Center chairman Tom Garvey argued that, while enlargement does not guarantee sustainable development, he believes that the process will ultimately positively affect European environmental quality both in the short- and long-term. But Garvey worried about the capacity for the EU to keep up with the environmental consequences of region-wide prosperity. "The acquis communautaire is necessary but not sufficient," he said. "Sustainable development needs to be taken seriously."
Panel 3: "Public Participation, Nongovernmental Organizations, and EU Enlargement." Barbara Hicks emphasized EU influence on environmental movements in Central and Eastern Europe through agenda-setting and shaping the means and conditions of activism. Andreas Beckmann highlighted the importance of NGOs as advocates for the environment, as a source of expertise and practical support in environmental initiatives, and as promoters of democracy. Ruth Greenspan Bell said that EU enlargement offers eastern NGOs the opportunity to act as watchdogs as well as the ability to bring litigation against national governments in EU and national courts. However, Bell noted, the new environmental regulations have been imposed on Eastern European countries from outside, without including them in the law-making process.
Panel 4: "Future Challenges of EU Eastern Enlargement for the Environment." John Kramer said that, while the EU has kept the environment on Eastern Europe's political agenda, the EU has also become a convenient scapegoat for candidate governments who must enact politically difficult measures. Among the coming challenges for accession countries, Kramer said, include cutting energy overconsumption. Ingmar von Homeyer outlined the likely effects of integration on EU environmental governance; he stressed the need for firm institutionalization of a Community-wide policy integration regime. Stacy Van Deveer highlighted the broad environmental progress Central and Eastern Europe has recently achieved, and he called on both EU member and candidate countries to continue capacity-building efforts and for the EU and West to stop exporting its unsustainable practices to the region.
The Wilson Center's Eastern European Studies Program has published a conference proceedings volume based on this meeting. The meeting was cosponsored by East European Studies and the Environmental Change and Security Project at the Wilson Center; the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies and the Center for European Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and the School of Public and International Affairs and the Institute for Metropolitan Research at Virginia Tech.