Environmental negotiations with 10 Eastern European countries hoping to join the European Union by 2004 will near completion by the end of the year, E.U. officials announced Thursday. Environmental protection is considered one of the biggest obstacles facing Eastern European nations interested in joining the E.U.; for the 10 countries — Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia — the total price tag for meeting E.U. environmental standards is expected to come to about $105.4 billion. European Commission Environment Directorate head Jean-Francois Verstrynge urged the candidate nations to see that money as an investment in public health. He and E.U. environmental protection ministers are meeting with their colleagues in applicant countries this week in Brussels.