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The European Neighbourhood Policy and the Environment?

The European Neighbourhood Policy and the Environment?

15 March 2005

LongSince its last enlargement, the EU has had to redefine its geo-strategic interests in the relation to its neighbours in the East and in the Mediterranean Basin. The event “The European Neighbourhood Policy and the Environment?” aimed for an open discussion of the existing opportunities for in corporation of participatory and environmental concerns in European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). It was held in Brussels, 15 March 2005, in honour of Tony Long, Brussels Director of the WWF International European Policy Office (EPO).

BergamaschiThe event opened with an introductory statement made by Paolo Bergamaschi, Advisor on Foreign Affairs, Security and Defence Policy for the Greens in the European Parliament, responded to Long´s statement as the debate’s first discussant.

As the various contributions to the discussion revealed, the ENP has a long way to go in terms of achieving goals related to redefining geo-strategic interests. It was mentioned, however, that these gaps provide opportunities for the European Parliament, which does not feel sufficiently integrated in the ENP process, to exercise pressure for a stronger inclusion of environmental matters in the ENP.

The environment is addressed in the ENP action plans as a specific sector and it also falls under the headline of sustainable development. By specifying the objectives and procedures for the different countries, these action plans provide the framework for the ENP’s implementation. The rules for their implementation must be adopted by 2007.

It was suggested that the action plans adopted for Tunisia and Morocco lack clear environmental priorities and address environmental issues as a separate factor without linking them to issues of (sustainable) development and poverty or referring to multilateral environmental agreements. The need for stronger environmental priorities, notably with regard to the marine environment, was generally recognised. Yet, some participants also argued that the sustainable development chapter of the action plans effectively integrates the environment and that the sectoral approach for environmental matters is more action-oriented and therefore more effective. In that sense, and in relation to the action plans’ aim to be specific and realistic, the (Mediterranean) Bilateral Agreements containing many environmental issues constitute more of a “wish list“. It is doubtful that neighbouring countries can implement the specified policies, especially in light of the fact that the current EU Member States experience difficulty fulfilling the related demands.

With regard to the problems of action plan implementation, it was mentioned that failure was not on the side of the Commission. The co-operation and political will of the single states’ is of crucial importance for implementation.

Concerning the application of the ENP Instruments, many participants also referred to the EuroMed process. Though it is generally stated that the ENP will not replace but reinforce the EuroMed process, in practice, the ENPI will substitute MEDA from 2007 onwards as the two processes will use the same mechanisms and thus become increasingly intertwined.

The EuroMed process might be a benchmark example for another important topic raised in the debate: the integration of civil society in the ENP process. One participant highlighted the EuroMed civil forum platform as an example of how the ENP process could become more participatory in nature. This is of special interest as the existing structures do not allow for civil society participation. The Association Committees serve for governmental consultation only. The WWF and the Heinrich Boell Foundation see an urgent need to establish a channel of communication between the Commission and the civil society. The Commission could empower local organisations to monitor the process in the long run.

A further concern raised were the cultural and structural differences between the various neighbouring countries. Several participants pointed to the difficulty of dealing with countries as though they were a homogeneous group. Especially between the Eastern and the Mediterranean neighbours, there are differences in structures and cultures that need to be understood for a successful implementation of the ENPI.

Following these more general concerns about the feasibility and effectiveness of the ENP, attention was drawn to the situation in selected neighbouring states. The action plan for the Ukraine was approved by the Cooperation Committee only some weeks ago. Hence, it is not yet possible to comment on the result. But with Chernobyl being Ukraine‘s main environmental problem it can already be predicted that the environmental improvements demanded by the action plans cannot be reached before the three to five year action plan deadline.

Georgia will enter the ENP process in April 2005 and the action plan will hopefully be defined by the end of the year. The main priorities will be conflict resolution and stability, transport infrastructure development and education. Environment is seen in the first place as being dependent on these issues. Georgia, a member of the Black See Task Force, is however very aware of water pollution and this correlates to the aforementioned marine dimension.

Other countries such as Armenia still do not have action plans. 

A final serious concern  was expressed with regard to Russia. Russia is perceived as having a much stronger geopolitical weight than the other neighbouring countries and can hardly be compared to them. The EU should be aware that Russia’s role in the ENP process still needs clarification .

The debate ended with the message that it is most important to develop the positive message that “Neighbourhood enriches the EU“. From a more practical point of view, the sustainable development dimension has to be enhanced in the action plans while paying attention to national differences. A civil society platform and monitoring mechanism should be established and the Commission should guarantee routes for civil society’s participation.

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Tony Long
Paolo Bergamaschi
15 March 2005