European Commission seeks new environmental partnership with the union's Eastern neighbors

The European Commission has adopted a strategy for pan-European environmental co-operation in the emerging political landscape that will be brought about through enlargement.

Feb 18th, 2003

Feb. 18, 2003 -- The European Commission has adopted a strategy for pan-European environmental co-operation in the emerging political landscape that will be brought about through enlargement.

The strategy renews the commission's commitment to bilateral environmental co-operation with the countries of the Western Balkans and the New Independent States (NIS). As EU membership expands eastwards, environmental co-operation with the EU's new near neighbors will be profoundly affected.

The commission's new strategy will be a key contribution to the conference of European Environment Ministers taking place in Kiev (May 21-23) this year. This conference will set out the roadmap for future European co-operation in the era after enlargement of the European Union.

On this occasion, Ministers will have an opportunity to assess the "Environment for Europe" process launched in 1991 after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and discuss future co-operation priorities.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström commented: "Since the launch of the 'Environment for Europe' process in 1991, the political landscape of Europe has changed dramatically. We now stand on the verge of a historic enlargement of the European Union that will also alter the way we work with our new neighbors to the East.

"Today, the commission has renewed its commitment to environmental co-operation with these countries through our bilateral agreements with them. We also stand ready to intensify our bilateral co-operation with NIS countries in this area."

The commissioner added: "Thanks to the Environment for Europe process environmental co-operation across Europe has made good progress. Now we need to ensure that the legal and other agreements resulting from our co-operation such as the Aarhus Convention - are made fully operational and are implemented."

The Kiev Conference

The Kiev conference (May 21-23) will be the fifth Ministerial Conference in the "Environment for Europe " process, which was launched under the UN-ECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) in 1991.

In addition to discussing the future of the "Environment for Europe" process itself, the Kiev conference will notably address the following issues:

* Three protocols to be signed on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), Civil Liability and Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTR).

* A 'Kiev Assessment' on the state of the pan-European environment prepared by the European Environment Agency.

* Signature or recognition of several sub-regional initiatives, in particular the post-Johannesburg EU Water Initiative for the NIS, the EU Energy Initiative, the Carpathian Mountains Convention, the Central Asian Mountain Charter and the Dnipro River Convention.

Commissioner Wallström will represent the European Commission at the Ministerial meeting in Kiev.

The commission's strategy

The planned Enlargement of the European Union to 25 Member States by 2004 and the development of significant bilateral partnerships between the EU and its other neighbors in South-eastern Europe, the New Independent States (NIS) and the Mediterranean basin will fundamentally change regional environmental cooperation in Europe. The commission will increasingly need to adopt a regionally differentiated approach in its environmental cooperation with neighboring countries, while the Environment for Europe process itself will have to be consolidated and reoriented to the NIS. These geo-political changes should be fully reflected in the orientation of work after Kiev.

The goals of the commission strategy, in the countries that are neighbors of the Union include supporting the pursuit of sustainable development and overall environmental protection, with particular emphasis on achieving implementation of the agreements made at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development of September 2002. Other instruments for such co-operation will be provision of assistance in the improvement of environmental laws in neighboring countries, to help them move toward EU standards, and in the implementation of the Doha Development Agenda, particularly its trade and environment dimension.

The commission proposes to pursue a regionally differentiated environmental policy with close European neighbors through the development of the environmental provisions included in the bilateral agreements that the EU has signed with these individual countries, such as:

* The Europe agreements with the 10 Accession countries as well as with Bulgaria and Romania

* The Association Partnership with Turkey

* The Stabilization and Association process with the five Western Balkan countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYROM, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Albania)

* The Partnership and Co-operation agreements with Russia, Ukraine and other New Independent States (NIS).

More specifically, the commission will seek to focus cooperation in the Balkans towards more institution building, support to environmental civil society and reducing environmental health threats. In the NIS the commission proposes combating climate change, efficient use of energy, improving public health, and improving resource efficiency as specific priorities.

In addition, environmental co-operation will also be further developed through sub-regional approaches initiated and promoted by the commission. Such networks of cooperation include the EU Northern Dimension, the Regional Reconstruction Environmental Programme (REReP) in the Balkans and the Danube-Black Sea Task Force.

The commission will work towards a successful Kiev Conference, which will achieve the consolidation of the "Environment for Europe" process and of its institutions towards work that will benefit especially those countries in need of further environmental assistance. The new Regional Environmental Centres established in the NIS region should, in the future, play a major role as vehicles for the strengthening of civil society towards greater environmental awareness.

Background

"Environment for Europe" was established under the UN-ECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) in 1991, at the conference held in Dobris Castle (Czech Republic). Further conferences were been held in Lucerne (Switzerland 1993), Sofia (Bulgaria 1995) and Aarhus (Denmark 1998). These conferences have created a framework of cooperation in which a common Environmental Action Programme was agreed served by a Task Force and an international financing committee. In addition, six Regional Environmental Centers were established in Budapest, Moscow, Kiev, Chisenaw, Tbilisi and Almaty. Finally, agreement has been achieved on a number of pan-European Environmental Agreements including the far-reaching Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

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