Tabled on December 9, the European Commission's proposals for the third phase of LIFE, the EU financial instrument for the environment, home in on a clearly amended Regulation and better targeted objectives for the 2000-2004 period. Prepared on the basis of a report assessing the first two phases (1992-995 and 1996-1999), the new Regulation emphasises the importance for the Community of having this instrument, broadens its scope and steps up the flanking measures, particularly those designed to propagate the results of funded projects. The Commission is recommending an ECU 613 million budget for LIFE over the next five years.

The first phase of LIFE covered the 1992-1995 period, the second from the beginning of 1996 to December 31, 1999. In 1996, LIFE was opened to associate countries in the Central and Eastern European countries as part of the pre-accession process. They are entitled to take part in LIFE Nature and LIFE-Environment on the same terms as those enjoyed by EU Member States. However, the CEECs will no longer be able to have access to LIFE-Third Countries. The Commission points out that so far not one project has been selected in this context.

Since its inception in 1992, LIFE has received 8,502 proposals for projects and nearly one-third of them were eligible. 1,275 of these projects have been jointly funded to the tune of ECU 643 million. Nearly 900 of them are in the process of being implemented. Over the years, this financial instrument's scope has been in the ascendant, allocating ECU 86.8 million worth of funding in 1992 and 102.3 million by 1995 (end of LIFE I) and 101.3 by 1998. Under LIFE-Nature, numerous projects to do with creating special protection areas for birds, national inventories of natural resources and preparations for the Natura 2000 network (a priority under LIFE I) have been launched. After 1996, the programme began granting priority to site protection schemes, particularly those proposed under the Habitats Directive.

As for LIFE-Environment, the action has been focused on clean technology development projects (altering production processes, 23% of the amount paid out) and water management, land planning in the rural environment and the urban setting and waste management (14-17% of the funds).

During the first phase of LIFE-Third Countries, projects that could be financed focused solely on technical assistance, whereas after 1996 (LIFE II), the projects could also cover nature protection and demonstration...

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