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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Strengthening the role of civil society in the accession process

3rd Annual Meeting of the NGOs Environment Forum

Brussels, 26 September 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am glad to see you back in Brussels for the 3rd Annual Meeting of the NGOs Environment Forum.

This venue provides a valuable platform that has helped build and strengthen civil society activities in the Western Balkans and in Turkey.

You - Environmental NGOs - have contributed to this process by sharing your 'on the ground' experience, expertise and knowledge and allowing us to respond to each country's interests and needs.

And you still have a big role to play in the future. Accession is a two-way process. All accession countries are committed to intensifying efforts to transpose, implement and enforce EU environmental legislation.

Your role in supporting the accession preparations is very important, because, more than in any other policy area, greater environmental protection can only be achieved if society at large is aware of the issues at stake. And if all citizens are actively involved in shaping, implementing and monitoring environmental policy.

As you know the Environment Forum project ends this year. But, I would like to reassure you that our exchanges and dialogue will continue. I will share with you our ideas on the future of our dialogue in a minute, and I hope you will support them.

But, I would like first to respond directly to questions you raised.

First, on the annual reports: As you know, the Commission’s annual progress reports are a regular activity that the Commission performs in order to assess the progress made by the enlargement countries on their way to EU accession.

But the Commission is not involved in the internal national process of preparing the contributions to the progress reports. It is up to each country to prepare internally its contribution to the report by consulting all relevant stakeholders.

We do, however, receive information from a wide variety of sources: from your government, from relevant EU institutions, from peer review and expert missions ….and also from NGOs directly.

But, I understand your concerns and your desire to contribute in a more structured manner to the Progress Reports. And I agree that the next phase of the Environment Forum should go in this direction.

Second, on IPA funding: You mention the process of programming the financial assistance and the need to involve civil society in this process.

I agree with you that the relevant stakeholders need to be informed and consulted on proposals for the IPA assistance. However, it is up to the national governments to decide on the proper consultation process not us.

I also agree with you that NGOs should have the capacity to participate efficiently in the development and implementation of IPA funded projects. And we will propose for the next phase of the Environment Forum capacity building activities focused on these needs.

As regards financing opportunities for you, colleagues in the DG Enlargement are preparing a financing proposal for the Civil Society Facility for the period 2011-2013. This proposal intends to bring Civil Society Facility activities under one single Financing Decision. A three-year programme will have the advantage of allowing for a longer-term effort with a more effective use of the Commission's instruments to bring about a civil society-friendly environment.

And now on your thematic papers. I saw that you have prepared two thematic papers on two very important and relevant topics: Energy and Transport.

You will be discussing these papers thoroughly during the thematic sessions tomorrow, so I will not enter into too many details now. But I want to point out a few important elements from the environment perspective.

When planning its funding, the EU takes into consideration many aspects, among which:

  • the national priorities,

  • the relevance of the project for the country, and

  • the priorities in terms of transposition and implementation of the environmental acquis.

All EU co-funded plans and projects should show compliant with the applicable EU environmental legislation and policies.

From our side we have always emphasised the need for your authorities to ensure compliance with the provisions of the EIA and SEA Directive. This is important for the environmental sector but also for other policy areas such as energy and transport.

We also always underlined the need for public consultations and the importance of public participation in the decision-making process. And we will continue to do so.

Another point I consider important is the funding provided by IFIs, several of the banks have taken the commitment to respect the European Principles for Environment when providing financial assistance.

We strongly endorsed this initiative that promotes among the financial institutions, the implementation and respect for the guiding environmental principles in the EC Treaty and the practices and standards incorporated in EU secondary environmental legislation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These exchanges are very important. You still have a very important role to play in supporting your countries in the accession process. And the Commission, as much as you, would like to see that this process continues also in the future. Our dialogue is important for all of us!

But how do we see this in the future?

The dialogue will keep its name of Environment Forum, as you suggested. The new Environment Forum is proposed to be included under the next Regional Environmental Network for Accession project (RENA) as a distinct, independent pillar.

This option offers certain benefits that will not be obtained otherwise.

We plan to provide you a broader range of activities. Besides the annual meeting and the national preparatory meetings, we envisage the establishment of regional meetings for the preparation of the annual meeting, participation in the preparation of the Progress Reports and capacity building activities for development, preparation and implementation of IPA projects, as you asked.

In addition, under this project capacity building activities could be delivered through the RENA II. This will help you create, strengthen and improve your capacities; lead to regional networks and provide support and knowledge for the smaller NGOs.

Our goal is to assist you in consolidating your capacities, for becoming the strong, efficient, professional civil society partner that your countries need in their preparation for accession.

I called on you last year to develop a close partnership with the administrations in your countries, to work hand-in-hand to develop and implement the national policy that will meet the requirements of the EU environment acquis.

The next phase of the Environment Forum will provide you the means to do this.

The current good practice of joining all the other RENA activities will be kept. You will be able to benefit from the technical assistance, to present your work and practical examples from the experience on the ground and to enforce the links and dialogue that you have with the governmental officials. This will help strengthen your role in the implementation of the environmental acquis.

I encourage you to look positively at this proposal and to take up this opportunity that I trust will give you a stronger position in the decision making processes.

Only by working together we will be able to make a difference and contribute to the correct implementation of the environmental acquis. You are a strong partner in this process, and I encourage you to be a constructive partner in your discussions with your governments.

I strongly believe in the continuation of our dialogue and I look forward to meeting you next year at our 4th Annual Meeting.

The next Annual Meeting will be organised by the Commission to ensure the continuity of our dialogue.

It is my also pleasure now to invite the Environment Forum to join the discussions of the RENA Ministerial Meeting to that will take place next spring. Your participation will be a sign of cooperation and communication between you and the decision makers.

I wish you all a very successful and fruitful conference.

Thank you for your attention.

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