Marko Slokar, Executive Director of MS SVET Ltd. Slovenia

Steps Towards a “Green” Europe

Marko Slokar, Executive Director of MS SVET Ltd. Slovenia

Despite the economic crisis, “green” projects have been the fastest-growing investments in the EU during the last few years, which is followed by growth in the number people employed in the “green” economy. It is realistic to expect such a trend, although perhaps with certain delays, to also be transferred to Serbia, provided the country takes tangible steps within the framework of the “green” economy.
Accession to the EU, in the field of the environment, consisting of the approximation process, in which a state needs to harmonise its legal framework fully with the EU acquis, which, according to Marko Slokar, Executive Director of MS SVET Slovenia and former Slovenian Secretary of State for the Environment, is the toughest “homework assignment” for every country.

The second process is that of negotiation. When negotiations will be opened on the individual chapters, such as Chapter 27 – environment and climate change, “depends on the assessment of the European Commission on the extent to which candidate countries have undertaken all preparations necessary for the start of negotiations,” says Slokar.

You were Secretary of State for the Environment in Slovenia during the negotiations with the EU on the environment. In your opinion, was the most difficult task at that time?

Slovenia had launched the process of approximation of the environment at least six years earlier. At the time of the opening of negotiations on this chapter and preparations of the first document on the negotiating positions, at the end of July 1999, a significant part of the “homework assignment” had already been done and thus the country had created a relatively good starting position for itself in the negotiations. This was probably also one of the reasons why, out of all ten of the then-candidate countries, Slovenia was the first to successfully close this chapter by the end of March 2001.

Every candidate country should start establishing domestic economic and financial mechanisms, under the auspices of its own capabilities, from the moment it signs the Stabilisation and Association Agreement

The most difficult task, and an almost impossible one, was to defend Slovenia’s negotiating position in individual sub-sectors of the environment, in which, according to the assessment of the other side, possible transitional deadlines or demanded permanent derogations for the full implementation of regulations, led to a significant infringement on competition within the common market of the EU, endangering the health and safety of citizens significantly, or jeopardising certain strictly protected species of animals and plants. Those were primarily regulations related to environmental impact assessments, industrial emissions, fuel quality, chemicals, waste management and nature conservation.

Of course, those negotiations, which lasted a little less than two years, were not at all easy, especially if we consider that the chapter on the environment represents over a third of the total EU acquis and that it is primarily necessary to secure very high financial resources.

It seems that it is during negotiations on Chapter 27 that securing financial mechanisms is the most complicated for a candidate country. How did Slovenia secure the necessary funding?

Every candidate country should start establishing domestic economic and financial mechanisms, under the auspices of its own capabilities, from the moment it signs the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Slovenia started with the formation of the first financial instrument very early on, and by 1993 it had already established the revolving fund for environmental protection.

Other economic instruments were also introduced later, such as taxes, charges, subsidies and tax incentive measures in the fields of water quality and air quality, management of municipal waste and special waste streams, in the area of climate change etc. In this way, Slovenia ensured that – already during its EU accession period – in addition to maximum utilisation of all available grants from EU funds and loans from international financial institutions, it also managed to secure a significant share of domestic funding for the financing of environmental protection.

Given that you are familiar with the state of the environment in Serbia, how do you evaluate our position ahead of the opening of Chapter 27?

It may sound paradoxical, but the most important element for a true assessment of the position in which Serbia finds itself prior to the opening of Chapter 27 is not the knowledge of the current state of the environment in Serbia. What is very important at this point is that the candidate country is sufficiently well prepared for negotiations. First of all, it has trained negotiators and a clear long-term vision for the development of environmental policy in line with European policy.

As far as I know, Serbia has so far succeeded in establishing the necessary negotiation structures, has a developed strategy and action plan for approximation in the areas of the environment and climate change. What is lacking are some key implementation plans of individual directives, which require high investments and which provide a basis upon which Serbia could seek transitional deadlines for their full implementation during negotiations.

The EU has, through key strategic and planning documents up to 2020, committed itself to the “green economy”, which should be crucial for the EU’s global competitiveness, sustainable development and inclusive economic growth

The European Commission stated in its 2015 progress report on Serbia that, in the field of environmental protection and climate change, Serbia is still “in the early stages of preparation” and that so far it has achieved “only some progress” in the further harmonisation of policies and regulations with the EU acquis. Such an assessment by the European Commission does not represent a very good starting position for Serbia ahead of the opening of negotiations and indicates that the negotiations on Chapter 27 are likely to be tough and long-running.

Candidate countries simply must accept the EU acquis in the field of the environment. So, what is actually being negotiated?

A candidate country must, significantly prior to the date of its entry into the EU, harmonise its domestic legal framework fully with the EU acquis in the fields of the environment and climate change, translate the complete acquis communautaire in their own language, establish an adequate organisation and the adequate administrative capacities of institutions responsible for the implementation and oversight of the implementation of regulations, establish the necessary administrative procedures, provide systems and the necessary infrastructure for monitoring the environment and reporting in line with EU requirements. This is its “homework assignment”, about which there will be no negotiating.

They can only negotiate on transitional deadlines for the full implementation of individual directives, provided there are justified reasons for that. This usually relates to directives requiring high investments and for which a candidate country must draft and submit specific implementation plans to the European Commission. As I mentioned earlier, it is expressly highlighted that transitional deadlines for full implementation cannot be sought if it would lead to a significant infringement of competition within the EU’s common market. Transitional deadlines in the field of nature protection are also not possible.

Real negotiations are also conducted regarding the so-called “financial package” of the negotiation process, which relates to European funds earmarked for financing projects in the fields of the environment and climate change within the EU Member States.

What role does civil society play during these negotiations?

Negotiating is the exclusive responsibility of the executive authorities – the government of the candidate country, which bears full responsibility for the outcome of the negotiations. Based on the positive experiences of previous enlargements, it is recommended that a constructive dialogue is established with civil society during negotiations, as well as with other interested parties, in order to achieve the broadest possible compliance of the negotiating positions of a candidate country through the consultation process.

The start of the 21st century has been marked by the birth of a new economic model, the “green” economy. From today’s perspective, how would you assess the success of this model in Europe and the world?

The situation with the new economic model of the “green” economy is similar to the principle of sustainable development, in that it is still present more in theory than in practice. This applies to the European Union and the rest of the world. The European Union has, through key strategic and planning documents up to 2020, committed itself to the “green economy”, which should be crucial for the EU’s global competitiveness, sustainable development and inclusive economic growth.

However, in practice, the EU is still in the initial stages of transitioning towards a green, low carbon, and energy and resource-efficient economy. The “green economy” is today still only desirable, but in the longer term, it will become essential. Long-term “green” investments bring less immediate short-term benefits, but their long-term benefits are greater.

Can you say today that the introduction of the “green” economy to Slovenia has had a positive impact on the country’s economic and social development?

I would not dare claim that the introduction of the “green” economy to Slovenia has been of vital importance, but it is undeniable that the introduction of certain elements of the “green” economy has provided a visible contribution to the country’s overall economic and social development over the past few years.

In your opinion, does the adoption and implementation of the EU’s requirements guarantee the 100% success of a candidate country in the “green” economy?

No, not at all; that would be like saying that playing football according to all the rules would guarantee 100% that you will become world champions. Accepting and implementing the requirements of the EU only represents a solid starting point and creates realistic opportunities to significantly improve the state of the environment and the development of the “green” economy. It depends on a particular candidate country the extent to which they will take advantage of this, and how they will apply it in practice.

Economists base the “green” economy on six fundamental sectors (renewable energy, green construction, cleaner transportation, sustainable water management, waste management and spatial management). In which of these sectors do you think Serbia has the greatest potential?

In every other country, including in Serbia, potential always exists in all of these sectors. Still, I suppose Serbia’s greatest potential is in sustainable waste management, renewable energy sources and increasing the energy efficiency of buildings.

The green economy creates green work and new “green” jobs. How realistic are expectations in Serbia that the establishment of a sustainable management system will lead to the reducing of unemployment?

A certain disorder is always created during periods of transition and economic crisis, in which there is no guarantee that it will be possible to create new jobs in parallel with the loss of jobs through the establishment of a sustainable management system and thereby reduce unemployment significantly.

However, given that “green” works have been the fastest-growing works in the EU in the last few years, despite the economic crisis, which creates the fastest-growing number of “green” jobs, it is realistic to expect that this will also happen in Serbia, though perhaps with a certain delay, provided the country is really committed to taking specific steps in the “green” economy.

The EU is committed to replacing the linear economy with a circular economy, which is based on reducing the amount of waste dump and the number of resources used. How does this model enable developing countries to skip certain steps in establishing a “green” economy?

I’m not sure that any country, especially a developing one, can simply skip certain steps in the establishing of a “green” economy because it is forced to undo the negative effects of the linear economy in parallel. Replacing a linear economy with a circular one is only possible through a certain period of transition, during which it is necessary to make high investments in order to establish a closed system for increasing the share of consumption of renewable and recyclable raw materials and reducing the consumption of primary raw materials and energy.