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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

The Environmental Challenges facing us

Regional Environmental Network for Accession (RENA) meeting

Brussels, 25 September 2012

Dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to have the opportunity to welcome you again to Brussels.

As we speak, you are writing a very important chapter of the history of your country and of the European Union. I can assure you - as former negotiator for the accession of Slovenia – that there is almost nothing more rewarding. This is the legacy you are preparing for future generations.

You can be very proud of your work. You have made significant progress towards EU accession since we last met two years ago: Turkey is negotiating the chapter on the environment, Iceland will open the accession negotiations for the same chapter, accession negotiations have been opened for Montenegro, and Serbia received the candidate status. Well done!

I can fully appreciate the efforts you are making to carry out the – at times – very difficult legislative and institutional reforms. I know that it is not always easy, especially when it comes to the environmental acquis… And in these times of economic and financial instability we even need to go a step further and carefully reflect on how to best reconcile environmental protection and economic development.

Over the last two years, we, at the European Commission, have put in place mechanisms and policies that go exactly in this direction. We have placed the efficient use of natural resources at the centre of the Commission’s agenda.

The current pattern of resource use is no longer viable. If we do not want resource scarcities and pressures to be a major constraint on growth in the near future – then – it is time for some serious changes.

We need a new model of growth; one that drives future prosperity and job creation, while, at the same time, reversing negative environmental trends. This is exactly the objective of the Roadmap to a Resource-efficient Europe, adopted by the Commission last September. The Roadmap explains how we can achieve the decoupling of our growth from resource use and its environmental impacts in the context of the Europe 2020 economic strategy. Resource efficiency policies build on the understanding that our economic and environmental systems can no longer be treated separately. They need to walk hand in hand.

Our most important resource is our natural capital and the benefits that we draw from nature year after year. If we erode that capital for short-term gain, we are simply gambling with our future. There can be no growth in the future if it is not sustainable, if it is not resource efficient, if it is not green growth.

This was also recognised at international level. The Rio+20 Conference on sustainable development, that took place in Rio de Janeiro last June, acknowledged the importance of a global transition to an inclusive green economy. An economy that will allow us to live within the limits of the planet we all depend on; one based on the efficient use of the planet’s natural resources.

Even if the outcome of Rio was somewhat less ambitious than we hoped, than I hoped, it does provide a set of common priorities and a clear pathway for further work. The Rio "Framework for Action" calls for action and improved monitoring of progress at global level in areas such as water, energy, food and agriculture, oceans, land, biodiversity, climate … This is a very important step in the right direction.

In Rio, world leaders also agreed to launch the process to develop Sustainable Development Goals. These - followed through in coherence with the cross-cutting challenge of climate change - will support and boost our efforts to secure sustainability within our planetary limits. It is now for us to build on these results.

***

Dear friends,

I strongly believe that you - as future Member States – can and should play have an active role in this transition in your respective countries. The Commission will be happy to support your efforts through capacity building activities in the years to come.

Allow me before concluding to say a few words on the preparation of the seventh Environment Action Programme, which we hope to adopt before the end of the year.

The 7th EAP will aim to put all recent policy strategies (resource efficiency, biodiversity, low-carbon economy, etc) into a coherent, strategic framework that will seek to secure the commitment of Member States and other relevant actors, on a limited set of priority objectives to be attained by 2020. It will aim at enhancing the contribution of environment policy to the objectives of the EU 2020 Strategy by stimulating green growth, conserving natural capital and improving citizens' health and well-being.

For the accession process, preparation for taking over the EU acquis is the most essential element. Over the last two years, the Regional Environmental Network for Accession (RENA) has provided you with a framework for regional cooperation, information and best practices exchanges in environment. Programmes such as RENA have already played a useful role in helping you work together on common goals and to resolve shared problems.

The Commission envisages - following evaluation and discussion with stakeholders - a follow-up programme which will continue building and strengthening regional cooperation and developing the capacity of your public administrations. The new programme, called Environment and Climate Regional Accession Network (ECRAN) is expected to start early next year.

Its aim will be to continue providing support in key policy areas such as water, waste, air, horizontal legislation, nature protection and industrial emissions. This will be done by a combination of national and regional activities established and designed according to your needs and priorities. ECRAN will also provide a venue for future meetings of the ministers for environment of the enlargement countries with the Commission. I believe that this dialogue has real added value for sharing experience and concerns and orienting future developments.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

It takes a lot of effort before a country complies fully with EU environment standards. The length of this process depends on many factors: human and financial resources, the scale of investments required and time needed to improve the overall state of the environment. Nothing can be done overnight; planning and coordination are key elements for a successful outcome.

Each enlargement country needs to strengthen its administrative capacity and to provide adequate funding for proper implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the acquis. I know that one of the most pressing issues in your countries is the capacity required in the public administration bodies dealing with environmental issues, and I hope that this issue will be addressed accordingly, despite the difficult economic context.

Economic growth can be sustainable only if there is efficient use of resources and the production and consumption patterns are changed to more environmentally-friendly ones. Public support and participation will be essential in this process. I hope I can count on your support to move in this direction.

As with the occasion of every ministerial meeting, the representatives of the NGOs Forum are present today as well. I participated yesterday in the Annual NGOs Environment Forum meeting where I encouraged the participating NGOs to become your close partners in developing and implementing the EU environment acquis in your countries, and in supporting you in this transition.

Today, I would also like to encourage you to work more closely with NGOs since they can provide relevant information from the field. It is important to consult all the actors and stakeholders that are part of the process. A strong partnership between you, civil society and the relevant stakeholders can only be beneficial for your countries.

I am aware that the transposition and implementation of the environmental acquis is not an easy task. This is why I would like to assure you that I am fully committed to supporting your efforts in writing this important chapter.

This meeting is one more way to reinforce cooperation in the region, by allowing us to share the latest developments both in the EU and in your countries. I would like to thank you for coming here today and for sharing your experiences and good practices.

I wish you a fruitful meeting and look forward to our discussion.


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