On the environment protection chapter of the EU-accession

The environment protection policy and system of requirements of the European Union affect all sectors of the economy. Hungary's system of requirements is essentially the same as that of the EU Member states, since we have harmonized the legislation - with little leeway - during the last few years. The EU membership is expected to bring mutually favourable results both in the field of environment protection and quality of life. Related to the accession, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published information materials on the most important chapters of the accession, of which an outstanding part deals with the tasks expected in the field of environment protection and summarizes the temporary concessions (derogations) received for the fulfilment of the requirements.
In the European Union, some 300 community environment protection legislation have been passed since the end of the sixties. From the environmental effect study, through the requirements of management of waste oils to the system of rules of protection against ionizing radiation, the subject matter of the legislation is extremely wide. Environmental problems are dealt with by areas of speciality in the Union, according to the following grouping:

- horizontal legislation affecting all areas of expertise,
- air purity protection,
- waste management,
- water quality protection,
- environment protection,
- industrial pollution control and risk management,
- chemical matters and genetically modified organisms,
- protection against noise and vibrations,
- climate protection, environment policy, international treaties,
- nuclear safety and protection against radiation,
- civil protection and catastrophe elimination.

Besides the strictly considered environment protection specialty tasks, a fundamental requirement is that the environment policy should extend to the regulation of the respective sectors of the economy (transport, agriculture) and that the aspects of sustainable development taking into account the environmental, economic and social interests should also prevail. It is Hungary's interest to deal with the subject of environment protection in a preferential way. This is why Hungary's commitment to the enforcement of high level international environmental requirements is important. Hungary is committed to regional cooperation as well, since the Carpathian valley constitutes a unique geographical unit, pollution does not stop at our borders. Emphasizing just two examples: 96 percent of the flowing waters of Hungary spring beyond our borders and the transit traffic crossing the country is extremely big. Hence the level of risks affecting our environmental safety is quite considerable at some environmental elements. The cyanide and heavy metal pollutions that trailed down the Tisza and the Szamos in 2000 drew the attention to this in an unfortunate way.
We have to preserve the relatively favourable condition of our country, while we must efficiently handle the existing environmental problems (e.g. management of waste). The EU's system of environment protection requirements provides guidelines to this, in which the execution of the legislation affecting the most sensitive areas is an outstanding task, with a special regard to institution development and authorization: in the fields of waste management, integrated pollution prevention and control, as well as the reduction of hazardous matters emitted in surface waters.
Execution greatly depends on the financial possibilities. Developments must primarily be made in regards of the legislation related to the internal market and the prevention of cross-border pollutions. 
When scheduling the execution, the investments bearing the greatest environmental benefit and that are the most cost-effective must be realized first. Such investments naturally put a great burden on the Hungarian economy and society, but this can be lessened with the appropriate transition period and the efficiently used community funds. The integration process contributes to Hungary taking part in recent years in the system of various EU institutions and programs and receiving financial subsidies as well. Hungary can take part as full right member in the Union's research-development frame program and their environment protection sub-programs. Hungary has joined the European Environment Protection Agency fulfilling environmental information activities, as well as LIFE III program, which finances environment and nature preservation projects. The ISPA program - with a yearly committable amount of ten billion HUF since 2000 - has primarily subsidized communal environment protection developments. The subsidy rules of this program were the same as those of the Cohesion Fund that could be used after the accession.
Since 1973, the EU Member States realize the community environment protection legislation in the framework of several-year action programs registering the main objectives. Currently, action program 6 is valid from 2002 to 2010.
As per the Hungarian legal regulation of environment protection, the draft of the second National Environment Protection Program (NKP-II) has been prepared for the period 2003-2008. The NKP-II contains all the objectives and tasks on the basis of which we can comply with the community environmental requirements.
Full compliance with the EU rules – according to the estimation of the Hungarian government – necessitates some 2,500 billion HUF of environmental investments. The major part of the costs (some one third) must be spent on the collection and treatment of communal wastewater. In case of a continuous 4-5 percent yearly growth and with increased environmental expenditure, the objectives can be achieved - within the framework of the four deadlines extended with temporary derogations.
The shockingly big amount is the aggregate sum of the investments of the private and public sectors for several years. (In several community requirements, the execution deadline falls only to the last years of the decade for Member States as well, e.g. for drinking water: end of 2009, for integrated pollution prevention: October 2007, for waste landfills: end of 2009).
These expenditures mostly do not only serve the realization of environmental objectives, but modernization, and through innovation, the increase of the competitivity of the Hungarian economy, the extension of the number of jobs and the amelioration of the quality of life. On a longer term, the benefits can even exceed the costs, not to mention the betterment of the environment, which cannot be expressed in money. It is enough to simply think of the decrease of illnesses related to pollution, the wise utilization of natural resources, energy savings, and as an indirect effect, to the development of sectors of the economy - for instance tourism.

The accession of new members is advantageous for the European Union as well, since the market for its developed environmental industry opens up and the "environment protection stability area" is expanded.

During the accession negotiations, Hungary has received temporary derogations for the fulfilment of the following important environment protection requirements:

  • Packaging waste: We have received a derogation until December 31, 2005 under the requirement of recycling of at least 50 percent of all packaging waste and at least 15 percent of the glass and plastic packaging waste. The temporary period is primarily necessary for the organization of the communal selective waste collection. 
  • Incineration of hazardous waste: For certain domestic equipments, the EU requirements can only be fulfilled through modernization or complete replacement - due to the outdated level of technologies and the lacks of smoke gas purification and the continuous control of the burning technology. We have received a derogation from this until June 30, 2005. 
  • Collection and treatment of communal wastewater: We have received a derogation for the areas endangered due to the consequences of the aggregation of organic matters (e.g. algae aggregation) until December 31, 2008, until December 31, 2010 regarding agglomerations of more than 15 thousand inhabitants and regarding the requirements related to factories with emissions of four thousand or more inhabitant-equalling until December 31, 2008, since the country can only perform the great value investments necessary for the realization of the directive on a longer term. For the realization of this task, Hungary has prepared the National Wastewater Collection and Treatment Realization Program.
  • Restriction of the air polluting matter emission of great stokers: For defined equipments, a derogation lasting until December 31, 2004 was available for the development of the technology in both the sectors of energy industry and sectors not related to the energy sector (e.g. sugar factories).

According to the Treaty establishing the European Community:

1. The environment policy of the European Union contributes to the achievement of the following objectives:
     - the preservation, protection and amelioration of the quality of environment, 
     - the protection of human health, 
     - the careful utilization of natural resources, 
     - incentive at international level of measures related to overcome the regional and global- sized environmental problems

2. The objective of the EU's environment policy is high level protection, taking into account the differences observed in the various regions. This policy is based on caution and prevention.

3. During the elaboration of its environment policy, the EU takes into consideration: 
     - the available scientific and technical data, 
     - the environmental conditions of the various regions of the Union, 
     - the possible advantages and costs of intervention as well as non-intervention, 
     - the economic and social development of the whole of the EU and its regions.