By Nathan Johnson
On Friday, June 18, the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) celebrated its 20th Anniversary as an international organisation.
On the occasion of the REC's 20th Anniversary, REC Charter Signatories adopted a declaration in which they honoured the REC's foundation, its work throughout the region and its viability as an independent organisation. The Signatories also expressed gratitude to partners and donors for their guidance and financial contributions over the years. Finally, the Signatories recommended that REC strategy for the years 2011-2015 focus on two primary areas: the promoting of governance for sustainability, and facilitating transition towards a green economy.
The REC, headquartered in Szentendre, Hungary, has country offices in 17 beneficiary countries, 10 of which are European Union member states. As of today, Sweden and the United Kingdom joined the REC as signatory countries, bringing the number of signatories to 32.
The event was opened by Sandor Fazekas, Minister of Rural Development of Hungary who welcomed the high-level guests from various REC regions. Following the ministerial panel, Fazekas awarded the REC with the Award for the Environment on behalf of the Ministry for its achievements and commitment over the past two decades.
"During the last 20 years, environmental issues have moved to the forefront of the international diplomatic agenda," said Hungarian Deputy Secretary for Foreign Affairs Gergely Prohle during the opening address during Friday's ministerial plenary meeting in Szentendre."[These issues] play a large role in discussions of such critical topics as energy resources, climate change, biodiversity, food safety, water management, pollution control and sustainable development. One of the most important instruments in dealing with all these new types of functional challenges is multilateral diplomacy and cooperation. In this respect, Hungary is very proud of being the co-founder and host country of the REC."
A 'memorable period in history'
The REC's Foundation Charter was signed on June 20, 1990, and the organisation's first offices were located in Obuda, Hungary. Attending the REC's opening ceremony 20 years ago were then Hungarian heads of state Prime Minister Jozsef Antal and President Arpad Goncz, as were representatives from Austria, the United States and the European Commission. Much, of course, has changed since then, both for the REC and the region it works in and represents.
"When the then US President George Bush visited Budapest in 1989 and pledged money for the establishment of a regional environmental centre, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe were just beginning to grapple with a new geopolitical reality," recalls Jaakko Henttonen, Chairman of the REC Board of Directors. "The REC clearly reflects the many transformative events that have taken place throughout Europe in the last two decades. The REC itself has played an important transformative role during this memorable period in history."
According to Corrado Clini, Director General of the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea, and REC Board Director between 2003 and 2009, "the REC implements roughly 300 projects each year thanks to approximately EUR 12 million in annual funding from national governments, international organisations and business."
From 1990 to 2009, the REC has received donations and in-kind contributions totalling more than EUR 164 million. The REC currently receives 38% of its support from European countries, and 25% from the European Union. Japan and the United States contribute 15% and 14% percent, respectively. Also, through a transparent and controlled process, the REC has awarded 5,500 NGO grants totalling more than EUR 12 million to support the development of civil society in CEE.
'Work of real value'
In addition to its pioneering and ongoing environmental efforts, the REC has also played important political and economic roles.
"In its early years, the REC made an important contribution to developing environmental democracy," says REC Executive Director Marta Szigeti Bonifert. "In recent years it has been helping to prepare countries throughout the region to achieve compliance with the EU environmental acquis and to meet the challenging environmental criteria for European Union membership."
Delivering a personal video message to the REC, European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik was appreciative of REC efforts over the past two decades, and spoke of existing and future collaboration between the two entities.
"We need to make our links between cohesion and environmental action even stronger," Potocnik said. "We should also not forget about new types of cooperation brought about by public and private partnerships.
"The work that the REC has been doing for the past 20 years is of real value," the Commissioner continued. "The REC is a key player at every level, taking environmental and sustainability solutions to those parts of the Union and beyond where they can be used, examined and fed back. The REC is an innovator and essential satellite for our environmental policies in a world where our programmes overlap more and more."
Regarding the addition of Sweden and the United Kingdom as new REC signatories, Hungary's Deputy Secretary is "extremely pleased".
The REC believes that the new signatories' participation can be very fruitful in future main activities: namely in capacity building for governance for sustainability and in the transition towards a green economy and low-carbon society. Sweden is a forerunner within the EU in the practical implementation of sustainability, the REC programmes will also greatly benefit from policy analysis and innovations authored by the advisors of the British government."
For Szigeti Bonifert, reaching the 20-year milestone is a "rewarding and fulfilling experience," but points to the road which lies ahead.
"The ability to identify and meet future challenges is what enables both individuals and organisations to affect truly visionary change," says the Executive Director. "In laying down the vital structural and institutional groundwork over two decades, the REC has provided countries in its regions with the tools and know-how to address the most pressing environmental challenges of our time."
At the event's closing ceremony, the signatories adopted the REC Declaration on the occasion of the organisation's 20th birthday.
List of high-level contributors on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the REC
H.E. Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament
H.E. Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, European Commission
H.E. Laszlo Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, European Commission
H.E. Sandor Fazekas, Minister of Rural Development, Hungary
H.E. Laszlo Borbely, Ministerof Environment and Forestry, Romania
H.E. Branimir Gvozdenovic, Minister of Spatial Planning and Environment, Montenegro
H.E. Nexhati Jakupi, Minister, Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, Macedonian Government
H.E. Gheorghe Salaru, Minister, Ministry of Environment, Moldova
H.E. Raimonds Vejonis, Minister of Environment, Latvia
H.E. Gregory John Dorey, Ambassador, Embassy of the United Kingdom
H.E. Tetsuo Ito, Ambassador, Embassy of Japan
H.E. Mrs. Siri Ellen Sletner, Ambassador, Kingdom of Norway
Mr. Taulant Bino, Deputy Minister of Environment, Forests and Administration of Waters, Albania
Mr. Anders Boheman, Senior Advisor on International Issues, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency
Dr. Corrado Clini, Director General, Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea, Italy
Ms. Zita Gurmai, Member of the European Parliamanet, Vice Chair of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs
Mr. Reuf Hadzibegic, Assistant Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mr. Gyula Hegyi, Member of the Cabinet, European Commission
Mr. Zoltan Illes, State Secretary of Environment, Ministry of Rural Development, Hungary
Mr. Jo Leinen, Member of the European Parliament, Chairman of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
Mr. Stepan Lyzun, First Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection, Ukraine
Mr. Nazmi Haluk Ozdalga, Member of the Turkish National Assembly, Director of Environmental Committee, Turkey
Mr. Gergely Prohle, Deputy State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hungary
Mr. Ivica Radovic, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, Serbia
Mr. Hassan Sarikaya, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Turkey
Ms. Shalini Vajjhala, Deputy ASsistant Administrator for International Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, USA
Mr. Janusz Zaleski, Under Secretary of State Ministry of the Environment, Poland