The approximation of law is a unique obligation of membership in the European Union (EU). It means that countries aspiring to join the European Union must align their national laws, rules and procedures in order to give effect to the entire body of EU law contained in the acquis communautaire. The acquis communautaire includes the directives, regulations, and decisions adopted on the basis of the various Treaties which together make up the primary law of the European Union.
Currently, five countries (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey) are under negotiation for membership in the Union and three countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo) were promised the prospect of joining when they are ready. One of the requirements for accession to the European Union is that these applicant countries approximate their legislation to that of the acquis communautaire. One section of the acquis contains EU laws and regulations concerning the environment.
The approximation is quite a difficult process because the existing legislation in many of the applicant countries is vastly different from European Union legislation. Standards between the applicants and the EU vary widely, and EU regulation of the environment covers a wider scope of issues. But failure by the applicant countries to properly approximate their environmental legislation, by focusing instead only on economic issues, may prevent a country from membership in the Union. Therefore successful approximation is necessary in order for accession to occur.
What is the approximation?
Applicant countries must approximate their legislation to resemble that of the European Union in all areas of the acquis, including the environmental chapter. Approximation is a difficult task that will require significant improvements and capital investments within the applicant countries. The goal of the approximation process is ensure 100 % compliance with the acquis “not just on paper, but also in fact.” To reinforce this requirement, the approximation process is typically seen as consisting of three elements:
Although countries have considerable discretion in choosing the most appropriate national mechanism to reflect Union environmental obligations, this discretion is limited in some respects by general principles of Union law.
Costs and benefits of compliance with the environmental acquis
The pre-accession period
The EU Acquis is driving West Balkans and Turkey environment institutions to adjust to a changing legal framework that has significant implications for the future scope and organization of their work. Institutional changes are part of a government-wide adjustment that expands the role of environmental protection, increases accountability, and demands improved communication on outputs and objectives of environment programs and investments.
During the short pre-accession period, these countries will have a small window to capture the benefits available before accession when political will for reform is the highest. This small window presents a onetime opportunity to adapt institutions systematically and access additional resources, guidance, and technical assistance before completing the stabilization and association process.
As the obligation to approximate continues after accession, the pre-accession approximation process becomes an opportunity for countries to organise their institutions and procedures and to train their staff for the daily processes and responsibilities of European Union law making, implementation and enforcement
- Patrick J. Kapios, Environmental Enlargement in the European Union: Approximation of the Acquis Communautaire and the challenges that it Presents for the Applicant Countries (Part of the Environmental Law Commons, and the International Law Commons)
- The World Bank, Journey to a cleaner future
- EC – DG Environment, The cost of not implementing the Environmetal acquis, 2011
- EU DG Enlargement Fact sheet, Energy, Climate change and Environmental protection