Last week, REC Executive Director Marta Szigeti Bonifert and several experts visited European Commission institutions with the double aim of showcasing relevant projects and learning more about the EC's strategic goals and processes in order to better integrate them into efforts made at the regional level.
The purpose of the meeting with Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) representatives Morten Jung (Head of Unit) and Guillemette Vachey (Environmental and Climate Action Expert, and member of the Centre of Thematic expertise on Connectivity/Networks, Environment and Regional Development) was to follow up on a recent meeting with Anna Phillips, Program Manager for Europe at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to discuss REC priorities, mandates and strategies in South Eastern Europe (SEE) for the 2016-2020 period. DG NEAR representatives were informed about developments within the REC's capacity as 'Regional Coordinator of the Environment Dimension' of the SEE 2020 Strategy, and were also brought up to date on other important REC initiatives and flagship programmes in SEE such as CRESSIDA, the Themis Network, and the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC).
The REC team also visited Jos Delbeke, Director General at Directorate-General Climate Action. The meeting provided an excellent opportunity to introduce an EEA Grant-supported adaptation tool (the National Adaptation Geographical Information System, or NAGiS) and to talk about post-Paris challenges and about how the REC contributed to INDC development in the Western Balkans through its "Strategy for Low Emission Development" (SLED) project. The REC is ready to support NDC fine-tuning at national and global level to develop recommendations for transparency and accountability of pledges made both at the regional and global level in cooperation with various think-tanks (e.g. VIU/CEU) and NGO network partners (e.g. Al Gore's "Climate Reality Project"). The REC also briefed DG CLIMA on capacity building efforts made through the Sustainable Development Academy (particularly regarding implementation of SD Goal #13 in the light of the Paris Agreement) and on efforts and prospects achieved through ENVSEC and the REC's Ukrainian framework programme.
The REC delegation also met with senior experts and Colin Wolfe, Head of Unit, Competence Centre "Smart and Sustainable Growth" at the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, as a follow-up to the 2015 December meeting with Commissioner Corina Cretu. The REC's work on EU Cohesion Policy was presented with a focus on promoting integration of the environment and SD portfolio into EU funds at the level of programming, project selection and monitoring. Collaboration with the ENEA-MA network was also mentioned, as was past experience with supporting territorial cooperation and the EU policy capitalisation process. A discussion was held concerning potential areas for cooperation between the REC and EC, and on building upon the REC's expertise and experience in preparing guidance documents on integration of environment, climate change and energy with Cohesion Policy funds, capacity-building and facilitating information exchange. Potential fields for cooperation mentioned by the EC include: support to member states regarding ex-ante conditionality in water and waste sectors; analysis of lessons learned from the 2007-2013 programming period; and further involvement in ENEA-MA network activities.
Finally, the REC Executive Director met Karl Falkenberg, Senior Adviser for Sustainable Development at the European Commission, to explore opportunities for organising a regional stakeholder (governments, local governments, business, civil society) roundtable on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Possible outcomes include making a contribution to EC strategies, and there is a planned side event at the Eighth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference.