Environmental cooperation with the EU's Eastern neighbours lies in the framework of EU external policy, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). These countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. Environmental cooperation with these countries has increased in importance after EU enlargement leading to enhanced cross-border interactions and common interest in our shared environment.
These countries share a legacy of environmental problems from the past, as well as new pressures as they return to economic growth. These include low energy efficiency, the poor state of environmental infrastructure, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, and air pollution. Environmental legislation is being up-dated; however, administrative capacity, enforcement of legal acts and public participation and awareness of environmental challenges need to be increased. There are important links between poverty and environmental factors such as access to clean drinking water in some of the countries. The region also possesses vast natural and vulnerable areas, which require management and protection.
Better environmental policies bring significant economic and social benefits as has been shown in the new Member States of the EU. A recent study provides a sound analysis for ENP countries on the social and economic benefits of enhanced environmental protection.
The countries are also important partners in global, European regional and sub-regional environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity, the follow-up of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the Northern Dimension and co-operation in the Danube-Black Sea regions.
Environmental Policy with the Eastern neighbours
The EU developed bilateral cooperation with Eastern partner countries mainly through the Partnership and Co-operation Agreements (PCA) and through sub-committees on environment whilst regional cooperation takes place under the Eastern Partnership.
The environment sections of the National Action Plans negotiated to date with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine define a set of jointly agreed priorities for action ranging from environmental governance and issue-specific activities to international and regional cooperation on environment issues. Progress reports towards implementing the Action Plans also contribute to monitor the implementation of the objectives that the EU has agreed with these countries.
Five countries (Armenia Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) have been negotiating new Association Agreements with the EU which include timetables for implementation of key parts of the environment acquis. When in force, the Agreements will be a strong basis for converging environmental legislation with the EU and throughout the region.
Financial assistance is provided through the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). This is a flexible, policy-driven instrument, designed to target sustainable development and approximation to EU policies and standards - supporting the agreed priorities in the ENP Action Plans and/or the Association Agreement (as well as the Strategic Partnership with Russia).
From 2014 onwards this will be replaced by the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI).
International Financial Institutions such as the European Investment Bank are also active in funding environmental actions in the eastern neighborhood.
Belarus has no political agreement with the EU as bilateral relations were frozen in 1996 after the move towards authoritarian regime. The EU approach to relations with Belarus has two tracks:
While there is no Action Plan, Belarus is eligible for ENPI funding including a national ENPI programme. There is a dialogue on environment at expert level between Belarus and the European Commission.
The Eastern Partnership, created in 2011builds on the willingness of the six Eastern neighbours to come closer to the European Union and to align their policies and legislation.
The EU and the six countries adopted a Roadmap to the autumn 2013 Summit which aims at monitoring the Eastern Partnership reform process including in environmental governance. A flagship initiative focused on strengthening environmental governance was launched and allowed to extend to the partner countries the EU Shared Environmental Information System.
A Panel on Environment and Climate Change was also established as a regional forum for dialogue and cooperation on environment and climate issues. Addressing trans-boundary pollution is a complex issue, which includes ensuring that the institutional and legal frameworks are in place to address it efficiently. Many of the EU Eastern countries need to strengthen the procedures for implementing commitments under multilateral environmental agreements and their capacity for implementing multi-country projects financed by international organisations and donors. This Panel mainly aims at promoting the greening of the economies and best-practice in aligning partner countries' environmental legislation to the EU "acquis".
Regional Environmental Centres
The idea of establishing regional environmental centres in the countries of the former Soviet Union emerged during the early Environment for Europe process and was formally endorsed in 1996 by European environment ministers attending the Sofia Conference.
The success of the Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe based in Hungary served as a model for the establishment of new RECs in 1998-2000. Four Centres currently operate in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region in Russia, Moldova, Caucasus and Central Asia. The RECs original mission is to strengthen links between central and local government, NGOs, business and academia in order to develop environmental civil society; to enhance dialogue between the European Union and the countries concerned; and to foster integration of environmental, economic and social policies. However, since the European Commission does not provide core finding to the RECs any longer, at the moment the RECs face challenges requiring them to adapt their activities to the changing financial set-up.
In certain cases RECs also have a unique potential to address regional environmental problems that would not be tackled otherwise due to unsolved political issues between the countries (e.g. Caucasus).
Black Sea marine environment
In 1992 the Black Sea countries signed the Bucharest Convention for the protection of the Black sea against pollution and ever since the European Union, in close cooperation with other donors, has consistently contributed to the formulation and implementation of the longer-term Black Sea Strategic Action Plan (BS SAP, latest updated in 2009).
Following the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU, the Commission has declared EU membership to the Bucharest Convention a priority (Black Sea Synergy Communication). A range of projects managed by the Commission services (for example under ENP or implementing Preparatory Actions of the European Parliament) bring a direct benefit to the Black sea marine and coastal environment, in areas such as environmental monitoring, integrated coastal zone management, designation and management of marine protected areas, prevention of and emergency response to oil pollution from ships.The Bucharest Convention can foster the regional cooperation required for the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive by Bulgaria and Romania and promote coordination and convergence of Black Sea countries' marine protection policies.