Role of CSOs to support regional initiatives in implementation of EU directives in the Danube Region and Western Balkan countries


Emina Ahmetović, KAPAZ Project expert and Sustainable Energy Working Group leader at DanubeNet for NGOs;
Edina Busovača, President of UG EKOPOT;
Fljorina Nulleshi, BiH Team leader

Number of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Western Balkans is growing rapidly year by year. Civil society is vital pillar in a general shift towards more transparent and accountable society. Progressive policies indispensably involve civic participation as essential element for creation of sustainable local environment. Cooperation between national governments (or their institutions and agencies) and civil society is growing year by year. It is projected that cooperation will strengthen in the future in areas addressing environmental priorities indicating challenges and improvements in fields such as energy efficiency, waste management, climate change, sustainable transportation, water protection, food safety, sustainable consumption, public health. Social entrepreneurship and green economy is on the agenda of many CSOs in South-East Europe as a high priority for possible path in economic empowerment.

Development of CSOs ((Article 10(1) a, Regulation (EC) No 1889/2006)) is conditioned by several factors, some of which may be analysed in more detail:

  • involvement and presence of international community and various donor funding mechanisms,
  • strengthened political responsibility of governments in terms of external control required in order to achieve results such as increased employment, better quality of public services – civil society organizations actively work to develop public policies impacting quality of life of all citizens,
  • increased dialogue on regional approach to environmental problems (as of lately).

Environmental challenges do not recognize national borders and cannot be observed or controlled locally. Environmental problems do not respect boundaries, but states are main participants at the international level. An example of this is rapidly growing air pollution, occurrence of acid rains and depletion of ozone layer in the Danube Region.

For decades, air pollution was limited to urban regions or regions with concentrated industrial activities; nowadays it requires international cooperation in preventing and reducing levels of emissions. Involvement of NGOs in environmental partnership activities in the Danube Region is a backing component covering mixed packages of support.

Civil society organizations are predominantly active in supporting regional frameworks for protection of human rights or democratic reforms.

Statistics indicate that more than 12,000 non-governmental organizations are officially registered in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ((Analysis of the state of civil society in BiH, Kronauer Consulting, 2009)) According to the Central Register of Macedonia there were more than 11,000 registered citizens` associations and foundations in this country in 2009. ((The 2010 NGO Sustainability Index for Macedonia, USAID)) As per the USAID NGO Sustainability Index, year 2010 saw more than 32,000 officially registered NGOs in Bulgaria. ((The 2010 NGO Sustainability Index for Bulgaria, USAID)) And the trend goes on.

While CSOs remain the growth area, lot of these organizations exert public pressure to influence authority, consequently with positive cooperation leading to economies of scale. Many of them operate with different organizational capacity, public image or financial viability.

Acting as partners, organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria became involved in implementation of Capacity building for banning and phasing out asbestos from Western Balkan Countries (KAPAZ) in 2010. The project set to last eighteen months with the aim to strengthen capacity in the civil society arena for development of control programs and implementation of EU directives.

Asbestos is a silent killer and exposure to asbestos materials is evidence for carcinogenicity in humans. International Agency for Research on Cancer declared it as a cancer causing agent category 1. ((  IARC Monographs, Volumes 1 – 103 as Group 1- Accessed: 05.03.2012.))

KAPAZ is a regional effort to help professional and business associations dealing with occupational health and safety, local and national authorities, health and safety inspectors and workers, industrial companies or small and medium enterprises where asbestos was used. ((Energy sector and thermal power plants remain significant consumer of asbestos material.)) As a regional project action it allowed many of them access to training and capacity building efforts. KAPAZ was supported by the European Commission within „Environment, Energy Efficiency, and Health and Safety at Work“ starting in 2009.

Partnering organizations involved in implementation were Institute for New Technologies, Innovations and Knowledge Transfer – „Gauss Institute“ from Macedonia, Ecological Association HELIKS from Serbia, Applied Research and Communications Fund from Bulgaria, and EKOPOT- Association for development, advancement and promotion of ecological agriculture, tourism and environment protection in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

KAPAZ is not only a regional but an international networking project seeking interchange and collaboration with institutions from Asia, Europe and Africa. Study visits were conducted with personnel from Japanese universities to transfer knowledge and acquire hands-on experience in building and maintaining landfills designated for disposal of asbestos containing materials. ((Study visit to Kobe offshore reclamation disposal site receiving asbestos waste was conducted in August 2010. Working meetings with officers from Asbestos Centre Japan, School Asbestos Network and Mesothelioma-Pneumoconiosis Centre were also held in August 2010 in Tokyo.))

There are many institutions worldwide involving experts working to increase public awareness about asbestos presence and implications it may have on human health. Awareness topics include proper handling of asbestos containing materials (ACMs), disposal of hazardous waste containing asbestos, its health impacts and much more.

Clearly, the need to transfer know-how from countries (with significant experience in measures taken to prevent incidence) to organizations in the Western Balkans, where asbestos was widely used for decades is a necessity. Another argument is that creation of such partnerships and regional program activities may lead to better efforts for phase-out works, but the final decision rests on governments.

Balkan Conference which took place in Ohrid, Macedonia in June 2010 gathered more than forty representatives from these and other European countries, including officers from government bodies and independent environmental consultants (undertaking surveys, air monitoring in abatement projects, risk assessments) from Greece and Albania. Regional event called attention to the fact that asbestos remains particularly dangerous hazardous agent in the workplace, as in the natural environment in many countries if not handled properly. ((Since in the long run it may lead to serious conditions or respiratory disease, it is of concern that workers may be exposed to potential health risks.))

During the Conference it was argued that none of the countries involved in this project, with exception to Bulgaria imposed a ban on imports and production of asbestos and ACMs. In sync with the European legislation, marketing of products or substances containing asbestos and their use has been banned since 2005. Balkan Conference ended with recommendations to start with administrative steps to harmonize national regulations (laws and by-laws) with EU regulations. This has to be done without delay. Progress so far has been abysmally slow.

During the Conference it was also argued that more efforts stand in need to increase capacity of competent authorities and organizations whose work is related to asbestos (and other hazardous substances), in terms of treatment during removal and disposal of waste.
Ministries of Physical Planning and Environmental Protection will play crucial role in determining regulations and giving full support which is essential for initiatives to ban and phase out. In the final analysis general perception in the WB countries is that more accountability needs to be demonstrated in relation to government made policies or initiatives implemented in environmental domain.

The intention of the Conference, regional meetings and events that succeeded the conference was inherently to highlight necessity of public awareness about dangers of asbestos to human`s health and environment or better infrastructure to cope with toxic materials at the regional level.

Working part of the Conference was based on preparation of detailed study by Macedonian team which estimated hazards from asbestos in the Western Balkans. According to the study Serbia was the only producer of asbestos in the region. Ban was put into effect in 2011. Generally, ban on production and imports are imperative as the countries of the region undertake EU accession steps. EU directives are obligatory for all EU member states where production and imports were prohibited since 2005.

In recent years, the annual consumption in these countries has decreased, following the trends in Europe. As a matter of fact, for the last five years, following ban on asbestos in countries of the European Union, Western Balkan states came to be leading asbestos consumers in Europe. Even though these quantities are very low compared to historical data (from the “golden” period) they give “bad” picture about European image of these countries as seen in Table 1.

However, nations-wide research evidently showed that imports do exist. It also described supervised conditions to be achieved among the workforce dealing with removal works. From perspective of BiH, new Occupational Health and Safety Act whose adoption was planned in late 2011 should include provisions on employers` obligations to enable safe environment for all workers.

Table 1. Overview of asbestos related manufacture, imports and exports in the WBC (KAPAZ, Study on asbestos in the Western Balkans Countries, 2010. Macedonia)

Macedonian, Serbian and Bosnian experts drafted and finalized national action plans which were verified by the European experts and all submitted for review to national authorities responsible for implementation of EU Directives. These organizations worked on setting the grounds for implementation of measures and activities to deal with asbestos with more stringent and responsible steps in the future. National Action plans for implementation were presented at the final project conference held in Serbia in June 2011.

Civil society organizations deserve their spot in society and play important role in adoption and implementation of new legislation. Technical assistance and capacity building is strategic element in this direction as these organizations conduct different methodology in daily work encompassing desk and field research, transfer of know-how and training, publishing of different manuals and building educational resources, ((reviewed and translated Guide on best practice to minimize asbestos risks in the work place was distributed to relevant institutions throughout project areas in 2011)) lobbying or implementing public awareness campaigns, creating partnership networks between various organizations from the Danube Basin, Western Balkans and EU countries.

Five day training seminar which was held in a Serbian town Veliko Gradište in June 2011, gathered labor and environmental inspectors, OHS specialists, medicine specialists, implementers of the project allowing participants to focus on topics such as:

  • acquiring skills on safety measures,
  • treatment of waste and waste disposal,
  • identification of ACMs,
  • medical surveillance and risk assessments in lower-risk and notifiable works with asbestos,
  • how to enhance hazardous materials inventories: identification in open and closed applications.

How will transposition of relevant EU directives be implemented remains to be seen.
Gauss Institute, HELIKS and EKOPOT shall continue with training and providing resources to assist relevant authorities in BiH, Macedonia and Serbia with compliance initiatives and establishment of laboratories accredited for asbestos analysis.

At the same time evidently, more professionalism is required in the NGO sector, making it more presentable and an equal partner in major development discussions, especially in decision making process and implementation of strategic projects. This is a challenge for future member countries not to repeat decades-long neglect of the environment as was the case in Western Europe, which in the seventies stepped up environment protection programs at European and national level.

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