Romania upbeat after EU environment scrutiny

BUCHAREST, Jul 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) Romania, whose environment record poses a tough challenge to its hopes of joining the EU, will shoulder the burden of clearing up its communist-era legacy of pollution, a senior official said on Friday.

"There's much work to do, but we are headed in the right direction and the European Union appreciates this," Environment Minister Romica Tomescu told a news conference.

In March, Romania started substantive EU membership talks along with five other countries, and was told by Brussels to step up efforts to solve its serious environmental problems and bring norms up to EU standards.

It has set a deadline of 2007 to join the 15-nation bloc.

Tomescu said Bucharest was willing to share in the financial burden of EU integration, which he estimated at up to 26 billion euro ($24.3 billion) for the environment sector alone.

Romania has pledged to spend one billion euro this year on environment from its own pockets.

In January, a cyanide spill from an Australian-Romanian gold smelter polluted a river feeding the Danube, causing a major environmental disaster. Hungary and Serbia protested over the incident and are asking for compensation.

Tomescu said he had briefed EU Environment Commissioner Margot Walstrom in Brussels this week on steps to tackle the cyanide spill and pledged that the smelter would not be reopened until it was environmentally safe.

Tomescu also said that this week the EU had cleared an action plan and the environment chapter of the medium-term economic strategy which Bucharest submitted earlier this year as a condition to launch EU membership talks.

Brussels, he said, had recommended the centrist coalition government to improve cooperation between various ministries when drafting new legislation on environment.

Romanian officials put international funding for environment projects at 163.3 million euro in 2000, up from only 27.4 million last year. They expect some 200 million euro in foreign financing next year.

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