EEA enlarges to embrace countries in central and eastern Europe, Mediterranean
The European Environment Agency today welcomes Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Malta, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic as new members. Their arrival makes the Agency the first European Union body to take in countries seeking accession to the EU and brings the EEA's membership to 24.
The remaining seven candidates for EU membership the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Turkey will become members of the Agency once they, too, ratify their EEA membership agreements. It is anticipated that they will do so over the next few months, taking the Agency's membership to a total of 31 countries.
For reasons of administrative simplicity, full participation in the Agency's work by the new members joining today and other countries that ratify their EEA membership agreements this year will start on 1 January 2002.
"Today is an historic day for the European Environment Agency," said EEA Executive Director Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán. "We are proud to be the first EU body to make enlargement a reality, and not least to welcome states that for most of the second half of the 20th century were separated by political barriers from the rest of Europe."
He added: "The candidate countries' membership of the EEA is a further important milestone in Europe's environmental reunification. As these nations move into the European mainstream, the great challenge is to ensure the continued protection and enhancement of their rich natural heritage and to help them avoid certain insensitive types of development that, as EEA reports regularly document, are putting such pressure on the environment in western Europe."
The EEA's enlargement will make it a truly pan-European body, expanding the geographical area of its membership by 50% and the population it covers by 45%. Reflecting the different environmental characteristics of the additional area covered and the priorities of its new members, issues like water stress, transboundary air pollution, forests and biodiversity are likely to become even more important for the EEA. Enlargement will also bring a new focus on the sustainability of such regions as the Danube catchment area, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
While the Agency has been working with most of the candidate countries since 1996 on specific projects with support from the EU's PHARE programme, EEA membership will allow their full and permanent integration into the Agency's activities and decision-making. This will help to familiarise these countries with EU procedures prior to joining the Union and aid their compliance with EU legislation.
Agency membership will give the candidate countries the tools to monitor their environment consistently. They will also be in a better position to measure how effectively the new environmental laws they are putting into place ahead of EU membership are being implemented and how their natural areas and biological diversity are being preserved and enhanced.
For the EEA, a more regular flow of data and information from the new member countries will allow improvements in the coverage and quality of its environmental and sustainable development assessments for policymakers.
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