The Hungarian Embassy in the United Kingdom, together with the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), organised a May 25 discussion on the theme 'The European Union: a pilot for sustainability?' The event provided an opportunity to assess current and future sustainability efforts in Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.
For the past two decades, Europe has been grappling with three concurrent political processes: conflicts between environment and development that threaten the global economy, security challenges following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and legal and logistical upheavals caused by significant EU enlargement.
EU enlargement has affected neighbouring regions, in addition to the Union itself; and it can be argued that the differences between Europe's regions reflect, to a certain degree, the contrasts between different parts of the world. To this extent, Europe has the possibility to offer the world a model approach in the implementation of sustainable development strategies.
There are a number of very wealthy areas in Europe, and certainly within the EU, with high per capita material consumption, cutting-edge technologies and efficient workforces, sophisticated political and legal systems, and a tradition of the rule of law. These areas also produce high per capita carbon emissions and proportionally large ecological footprints. It is these regions that have transformed most of their natural capital into other forms of wealth.
By contrast, there are areas in the EU with high poverty rates, low per capita material consumption, inefficient technologies and workforces, poor policy implementation and weak law enforcement. Some of these areas still possess much of their natural wealth.
The recent accession of several CEE countries to the EU provides yet another opportunity for the continent to gain valuable experience and credibility in global discussions, as it can address internal regional tensions and turn them into drivers for sustainable development.
Hungarian Ambassador to the UK Borbala Czako kicked off this lively May debate. Following the ambassador were presentations from Tom Burke, advisor at the UK Foreign Office and visiting professor at Imperial and University College London; Nick Mabey, executive director of E3G in London; Miklos Tatrai, senior state secretary at the Hungarian Ministry of Finance; and Marta Szigeti Bonifert, executive director of the REC.