This week over 120 representatives from EU member states and candidate countries met in Prague for a two day workshop co-organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the European Liaison Committee for Social Housing and the Czech Ministry for Regional Development. The main aim of the meeting was to hammer out a common definition of social housing and put it high on the political agenda - in view of the planned expansion of the EU. Hubert Van Eyck is vice president of the UNEC's Committee on Human Settlements:
"If we look at the history of accession to the EU, housing has never posed a problem. But if we look at the ten to twelve accession countries that will soon be members of the EU we see that an obstacle to become member is the sector of housing because it is such a problematic sector, an expensive sector and a lot has to be done especially here because of the rather bad quality of these large scale panel houses which were constructed in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Politicians will be forced to pay attention to this and it is a problem not just for the occupants but also for local politicians - housing is very much a local responsibility."
I listened to the debate here and it struck me that people from EU states appear to very concerned about the quality of social housing while people from the candidate countries are more concerned about the lack of it. Isn't that the impression you get?
"Yes, well I think for all countries - in general - there are three aspects of housing: quality, availability and affordability. I think that in the candidate states there would be a stress on availability of better quality houses. I think that there is a desire on the part of our colleagues from the Czech Republic and other accession countries to discuss these things, to help them think things through and to find a certain amount of international support which I think is important for each individual country and of course there is also a need to try and find international funds. The Council of Europe Bank is represented here, there are other important banks, which are not here today, but which have contacts with the World Bank and the Eastern European Development Bank. So the function of such conferences is also to generate a certain amount of interest among international financial institutions to get involved in housing - which is, for many of these institutions, a rather new area of operation."
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