Austrian protests against Czech nuclear plant
The Czech nuclear plant at Temelín went online on Tuesday 10 October. Austrian protestors as well as the government expressed their continued resentment toward the plant. Officials said Austria could hold up negotiations with the European Union.
On Monday 9 October, Czech Premier Miloš Zeman disregarded appeals from his Austrian colleague Wolfgang Schüssel to postpone the launching of the Temelín nuclear plant, which was designed by the USSR in 1986 and is presently being equipped with Western technology.
As a result, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner declared that the country would not allow the closing of the energy chapter on the Czechs negotiations with the EU. A strong call was made for settling all safety issues pertaining to the operation of the plant.
At the same time, Austrian protestors blocked Czech border posts, 50 km away from Temelín. Their action was in conjunction with Austria's long-standing battle against nuclear energy.
On the other hand, Czech officials said the Temelín project met the strictest safety standards and that Austria was not justified in linking the launching of the plant with EU negotiations. When, and if, the power plant is fully operational in 2002, it will supply 20 percent of the energy of the Czech Republic. Thus, an unfavourable outcome of the current situation may have considerable effects on the Czech Republic's economy.
Commentators have seen the present situation is indicative of recent tensions between Prague and Vienna. At the same time, in reply to Austria's call for support, Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen said he was powerless to act.
Candidates join first EU agency
Twelve EU candidate countries are to become full members of the European Environment Agency (EEA) as of 1 January 2001. Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström and environment ministers from all candidate countries, except Poland, signed the final acts of membership to the agency in Brussels on Monday 10 October. Poland declared it would be able to sign by the beginning of next year.
The European Environment Agency is the first of the Union's 11 agencies to accept candidate states before they formally join the EU. Ideally, membership in the EEA will facilitate the progress of sustainable development programs in the candidate's countries, and will set an example for entry into other EU agencies.
Commissioner Wallström expressed regrets at the slow rate of environmental reform in applicant states and showed especial concern for Poland's inability to sign the membership documents now. Recently, the World Wide Fund saw a Polish dam project as environmentally harmful. Partly as a consequence, it was pointed out that Poland's reform of environmental regulations might delay the country's EU entry.
Verheugen: 2003 realistic for enlargement
On Tuesday 10 October Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen said that 2003 was a "realistic date" for the first stage of EU's enlargement. Nevertheless, he stressed that there are no guarantees that this would happen, nor did he mention the applicant states that might be part of the first wave of accession.
EU officials see Estonia, Malta and Slovenia as the first candidates to be accepted, should enlargement occur in 2003. Poland and the Czech Republic are considered to be slightly lagging behind the first group.
The commission is to publish reports on the progress of the candidate countries on 8 November. These reports will focus on assessing the positive changes in all applicant states. However, most officials see 2005 as more feasible first entry date than 2003. Moreover, current member states have expressed doubts regarding the commission's view on the enlargement timetable.
Poland and Hungary were the first countries to welcome Verheugen's comment on enlargement. Much like the Polish officials, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stressed that the present outlook on enlargement seemed much more favourable than just a few months ago.
East European leaders call for equal status
Politicians, members of civil society and European students gathered at the Newropeans 2000 congress organized by Prometheus-Europe between 5 and 7 October in Paris. Government officials from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Poland expressed their views on enlargement and the upcoming intergovernmental conference in Nice, France.
Romanian President Emil Constantinescu and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova stressed the need for redrawing the position of the Balkan candidates after democracy has been "restored" in Yugoslavia. Constantinescu alluded to the possibility of new association mechanisms for Balkan states. In turn, Mikhailova pointed out the need for greater transparency, democratization and efficiency for prospective EU members.
Czech Government Commissioner for EU Accession Pavel Telička stressed that the intergovernmental conference in December should not be used as an excuse to delay clarity on the enlargement process and target dates. He also drew some possibilities for future Czech presidency of the EU.
However, Michel Barnier, commissioner for the IGC said that it would be foolish to expect the necessary institutional changes immediately after the first wave of enlargement. He was mainly referring to eventual problems of representation of prospective members in the commission.
Overall, the congress meeting raised some of the most pending issues of EU enlargement, which were recognized as such by politicians, civil society and students alike.
Ivana Gogova, 13 October 2000
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