European integration process offers a unique opportunity for Serbian CSOs to help solve environmental issues
REC Serbia, together with partner organisations of the Environmental Civil Society Support Programme for Serbia (CSOnnect) and financial support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), recently held a three-day conference titled “Citizens on Chapter 27”. The event, which took place at Silver Lake in eastern Serbia on October 16-18, 2017, brought together more than 60 representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs), state institutions and experts to exchange experiences and discuss environmental challenges in panel discussions and workshops. The importance of Serbia's negotiations with the European Union on Chapter 27 (Environment) and the contribution of CSOs to this process were also discussed.
Ivan Karic, State Secretary at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, opened the conference by pointing out the importance of the ministry’s cooperation with civil society, and described efforts to increase procedural transparency through the passage of regulations and negotiations within the Chapter 27 framework. The establishment of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Karic emphasised, will lead to better cooperation and coordination, but also brings greater responsibility. The state secretary added that CSOs will be strengthened by significantly higher financial resources for the civil sector, which the ministry has allocated for next year’s budget.
Speaking next was Mirjana Drenovak-Ivanovic, a member of the negotiating team on Chapter 27. She commended the contribution of civil society to the current course of negotiations, and expressed conviction that dialogue with civil society will continue to be significant in the future. As she explained, the European Union has invited Serbia to open Chapter 27 with no opening benchmarks. She also announced the formal institutionalisation of cooperation between CSOs and the Legal Clinic for Ecological Law of the Law Faculty, University of Belgrade, through which law students will assist civil society in dealing with legal aspects of environmental protection.
A key aim of the conference was to present the contribution of CSOs to the Chapter 27 negotiation process—work being carried out primarily by the National Convention on the European Union, Coalition 27, the Banat Platform, and the Vojvodina Initiative. Tanja Petrovic, a Coalition 27 representative, explained that the goal of the independent network is to monitor the negotiation process in an impartial and critical manner, adding that the process of European integration offers a unique opportunity for solving environmental problems and improving the quality of life of citizens. Natasa Djereg, Coordinator of the Working Group of the National Convention on the European Union for Chapter 27, emphasised that the topic of environmental protection cuts across many areas and chapters, and that the Working Group is constantly open to the accession of new members. She also encouraged the conference participants to be actively involved in this process.
Dejan Maksimovic explained that the Banat Platform focuses primarily on chapters 11 (Agriculture and Rural Development), 12 (Food Safety, Veterinary and Phytosanitary Policy) and 27 (Environment), but is also involved in helping local self-government to strengthen is participatory role in the process. This type of cooperation is important, especially considering that local governments will bear up to as 50 percent to 60 percent of the total cost of implementing the reforms foreseen in Chapter 27.
The work of the Vojvodina Initiative was presented by Nikola Blagojevic, who highlighted the lack of visibility and lack of media support for CSOs as key challenges to sustainbility. The Vojvodina Initiative operates eight working groups monitoring 20 chapters, mainly through cooperation with institutions form the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina.
Over the two following days, the participants exchanged experiences, mapped the most important environmental challenges, and focused on the shortcomings of existing legal framework and regulations in the field of wastewater management and waste management. They also discussed financing for environmental protection at the local level, nature protection and rural development, and the issue of sustainable energy management in local communities. Through a series of interactive workshops, recommendations were made for future activities of civil society that can raise the standard of environmental protection in Serbia, both locally and nationally. To effectively implement these recommendations, the participants were presented with communication tools and research techniques used in investigative journalism.