Summary: Accession to the European Union should under no circumstances result in a decline in the level of environmental regulation, a point reaffirmed by Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard on the adoption on December 11 of the European Commission Communication demonstrating that the accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden has resulted in strengthened EU environmental protection standards. A review clause in the three countries' Acts of Accession provides for an assessment of Community legislation after four years to examine divergences in national regimes, often stricter than Community environmental protection standards.

Members of the EU since January 1, 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden were authorised to maintain different and in certain cases stricter national health and environmental provisions for four years (up to December 31, 1998): over this period the EU has reviewed its own health and environmental standards. In almost all cases, the review process has resulted in the adoption of strengthened environmental standards throughout the EU. In cases where further time is needed to complete the review, the new Member States will be granted an extension of their derogations. The Commission recalls that prior to accession per se, Austria, Finland and Sweden had already adopted the major part of the acquis communautaire in the framework of the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA). However, in the course of negotiations, differences and gaps between the environmental and health legislation of the EU and the legislation of the applicant countries needed to be addressed, the objective being to harmonise national legislation with EU law without necessarily modifying all the environmental and health protection standards in the new Member States. The review process addressed the specific points for which the new Member States obtained derogations. In the case of the benzene content of petrol, while Austria has a limit value of 3%, current EU legislation demands that Member States set a limit value not exceeding 5%. The new Directive on fuel quality (98/70/EEC), adopted in the framework of the Auto-Oil programme, will allow only 1% of benzene in petrol on an EU-wide basis from January 1, 2000. The situation regarding the sulphur content of liquid fuels is similar, with Austria allowing a...

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