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Chapter Three: Policy Responses - Europe and Central Asia

Laws and institutions

There is no international obligation for national governments to draft environmental plans or programmes. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, have been developing sophisticated planning systems, including long-term planning, since the 1970s. Their system of intermediate planning and evaluation has been used as a model for other countries, such as Austria and the Flanders region in Belgium, and for the 5th EAP of the European Union. For other countries, the need to draft national environmental reports for the UNCED conference was an important incentive to environmental planning.

However, plans and strategies have to be implemented and this is not always simple, particularly in sectors where the easier measures have already been implemented but further improvement is still needed.

In Central and Eastern Europe and in Central Asia, the EfE process has been an important driver of national plans. Countries which had environmental management capacity, such as Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, have welded some EAP elements into their traditional environmental policies. Comprehensive National Environment Action Plans (NEAPs) have been produced, for example in Armenia, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, which served many purposes, including elaborating new policy principles and redesigning institutions. Sixteen transition countries have developed or are developing NEAPs (OECD 1998b).

NEAPs have resulted in new environmental framework laws, implementation of new policies (such as the polluter pays principle and the right to know), medium and long-term plans, mobilization of financial resources to tackle priority problems, improved public participation, strengthening of institutions, and enhancement of environmental management skills. However, there is still a need for more effective private sector involvement in the NEAP process.

Continued progress is limited by the lack of financial resources and weak capacity, especially in economic and financial analysis, priority setting and monitoring. Most NEAPs lack an adequate financing strategy (OECD 1998b). With the exception of Lithuania, there has been no systematic effort to identify and estimate costs and revenue sources, and to balance them.

Since the early 1970s, citizens in many countries have initiated local environmental activities such as separate waste collection, energy conservation measures, avoiding pesticide use and local education projects. Gradually, these activities have become more structured and sometimes integrated into 'clean' city plans. The adoption of Agenda 21, which explicitly emphasizes the importance of local action, has been a major stimulus. Outside Western Europe, the EfE process has also been a positive factor.

The substantial body of European Union environmental legislation that exists today has developed mainly over the past 10 years, and now provides a common frame-work for the development of the national policies of all member states. The current trend is to integrate this diverse body of legislation into framework laws, to update existing legislation, and to adopt legislation on entirely new subjects. Implementation is, however, proving more difficult. Examples include the Nitrates Directive, the Habitat Directive and the Natura 2000 plan for a European Ecological Network, and the amendment to the Directive for the Protection of Wild Birds which has been under discussion since 1994. The European Union has also begun to implement legal measures aimed at the recovery of resources and waste reduction.

A series of new measures have been introduced to combat air pollution. These include addressing the emissions of cars, trucks and non-road vehicles, emissions of incineration plants for different types of waste, and emissions of volatile organic compounds and petrol and diesel fuel. A proposal for a revised Directive on sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates and lead has recently been published.

 Environmental policy in the European Union

The European Union is largely responsible for environmental policy in Western Europe. However, the OECD Environmental Policy Committee, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Council of Europe and other organizations have also initiated important initiatives.

Before 1987, European environmental policy was determined mainly by developments in the individual member states, which were 'harmonized' or paralleled by similar, but often weaker, legislation at the European Union level. This created policy gaps and inconsistencies.

The Single European Act of 1987 was devoted primarily to the completion of the internal market by simplifying decision-making procedures but also introduced environmental protection as a formal goal.

The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 expanded the common activities with two new 'pillars': a Common Foreign and Security Policy, and a Home Affairs and Justice Policy. The notion of sustainable development was also reflected in the treaty.

The 1997 Amsterdam Treaty was largely determined by the need to change both policies and decision-making procedures before opening the European Union doors to countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The treaty emphasizes the need to integrate environmental and sustainable development concerns in all policy areas.


European Union Member States have to adhere to the common European Union environmental policy developed over many years (see box right). Central European countries are required to adapt their national policies and legislation to the European Union's body of legislation if they wish to qualify for accession.

Eleven countries have begun the process of adapting their domestic legislation, institutions and structures to European Union standards. In July 1997, the European Commission published its opinion on the progress of the accession countries in Agenda 2000. It held open the possibility of accession to all candidates but considered five countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia) eligible for accession discussions. Negotiations with these countries (and with Cyprus) began in March 1998 with a view to full membership during 2002-2005. 'Screening' is being carried out with a further five countries: Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia (ED 1999). Five countries in southeast Europe (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Yugoslavia) are not included in the European Union accession process but are in need of assistance and have expressed the will to adapt their laws and policies accordingly. Most other Central European countries do not view European Union membership as a near-term possibility.

One of the main barriers to accession is the lack of financial resources - the cost of conforming to environmental requirements is estimated at ECU 100 000-150 000 million for the 11 accession countries. In order to fund the necessary investments, 3-5 per cent of these countries' GDP would have to be re-allocated to environmental expenditures over a period of 20 years. In contrast, the average environmental expenditures of OECD member countries is only 1-2 per cent of GDP. Some help will be forthcoming from the European Union, with a total of ECU 53 800 million earmarked for the period 2000-2006 (ED 1997a). This amount covers all sectors rather than just the environment.

Drafting and implementing the legislation needed for accession to the European Union is a somewhat distant objective for many Eastern European and Central Asian countries, although the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine have already indicated their desire to begin the process (OECD 1998b). For the remaining Eastern European and Central Asian countries, current legislative development relates mainly to implementing new media-specific laws with attainable standards and regulations, coupled with stricter implementation and enforcement.

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