In the first years of transition it became clear that establishing democracy is not at all a straightforward undertaking. The nations of the CEE region found themselves grappling with many problems: the need to balance the power of democratic institutions and pressure groups, a resistance to change among public officials and business managers, and the difficulty of drawing a line between politics and promoting good causes.
Environmental issues lost their appeal as a vehicle for criticizing the regime. Instead, the environment has become an area where significant public participation is being achieved. It has become clear that it is almost impossible to develop and implement environmental policies without pressure from the public and citizen's environmental organizations. In this respect, the situation in the CEE region has become similar to that of the EU and North America.
Significant transfer of know-how from West to East took place through various government and civic assistance programs. Public participation has been one of the cornerstones of the Environment for Europe process. In Dobris in 1992, and again in Lucern in 1993, the idea that there is a need for promotion of public participation led to the creation of the Guidelines on Access to Environmental Information and Public Participation in Environmental Decisionmaking. These guidelines were endorsed by the Ministers of Environment in Sofia, in October 1995. After Sofia, based on a mandate given by the ministers, a new UN ECE Convention was drafted by an intergovernmental working group with the involvement of an international coalition of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC). This document, created over the past two years, is the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decisionmaking and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.
The signature of the Convention will signal a turning point for Central and Eastern Europe in the process of transition. The provisions of the Convention are one of the first instances where transition countries are actually "leapfrogging" past some of the Western nations, at least in their legislative texts.
The question of whether to sign the Convention requires an assessment of the current situation and brings up further questions: Will all the ministers sign the Convention, thereby creating a unique international legal tool for harmonizing access to public participation? How fast will it be implemented? What difference will it make for the countries of our region?
The answers to these questions depend on all of us, the citizens and public officials from all the nations of the CEE. With this report we would like to offer a basis for monitoring the implementation of the Convention. The report is also meant to serve as a means for sharing different nations' accumulated experiences, which can be useful to anyone engaging in environmental decisionmaking.
The REC has always seen the promotion of public participation as one of its major goals. In 1994, the REC's Public Participation Program published its series of books entitled Manual on Public Participation in Environmental Decisionmaking, produced in English and 10 local languages, to offer guidance for citizens and NGOs. The REC has also undertaken many other projects focusing on the international dimensions of public participation (Beyond Boundaries, 1996) and giving grants for public participation advisory services run by NGOs (Advising Citizens, 1996).
In its 1995 Report on the Status of Public Participation Practices in Environmental Decisionmaking, prepared before the Sofia Ministerial Conference, the REC assessed the legal and non-formal framework for public participation in environmental decisionmaking in 13 CEE countries. Following this project, the REC continued its efforts to monitor and evaluate the progress of public participation in environmental decisionmaking in the CEE region. The goal of this monitoring work was to identify ongoing needs and problems and improve the legal framework and other preconditions for public involvement, on both the national and international levels. The result of this work is now in your hands.
This publication attempts to give a picture of each of the countries of this region and the CEE region as a whole. It also offers comparisons of the actual situation in our region with best practices and international standards, such as the Aarhus Convention, the Sofia Guidelines and EU Directives. In addition, this volume is part of a series of publications that attempts to draw conclusions on a Pan-European level by taking an overview of trends and practices in the CEE region, the Newly Independent States (NIS) and Western European countries. The series is being prepared through a cooperative effort by the REC, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Ecopravo-Lviv, using country surveys from 15 CEE countries, five NIS countries and 11 Western European countries.
The surveys offer the perspective of NGOs, citizens and independent experts who were authors of the country reports. The view afforded by this perspective is not always a pleasant one, but this does not make it any less valid. If we don't like what we are seeing, we should think about what we can do differently. We must ask ourselves if everyone in the region has truly been allowed to walk all the way through the doorway to democracy.
I would therefore like to recommend this volume to all readers who are truly interested in promoting civic participation and democracy - in every sphere, not just the environment - throughout the CEE region and the whole of Europe.
This volume consists of country reports written by authors from the respective countries and edited by the experts of the REC Public Participation Program. The concept and the outline of the project was discussed by the REC Public Participation Working Group, which includes NGO and governmental experts from the CEE, NIS and the West. For further information on how this publication was put together, see the section on methodology. Jeremy Wates and Fe Sanchis Moreno, of the EEB, and Svitlana Kravchenko, of Ecopravo-Lviv, were the major project partners of REC involved in the Europe-wide cooperation and coordination of the regional activities.
The following partners were involved in preparing the country reports: Andrian Vaso, Elio, Mazreku, Elmira Kurbegovic, Alexander Kodjabashev, Zelimir Grzancic, Pavla Jindrova, Petr Kuzvart, Maret Merisaar, Gulnara Roll, Sandor Fueloep, Una Blumberga, Kestutuis Navikas, Saulius Piksrys, Kiril Gjorgov, Jerzy Jendroska, Bartha Barna, Palo Zilincik, Milada Mirkovic, Maya Kostic and Milos Marjanovic.
The regional overview was prepared by the experts of the REC Public Participation Program including Magda Tóth Nagy, Jiri Dusik, Pavla Jindrova and Marianna Bolshakova with substantial support from Kriszta Majoros, Project Assistant.
English language editing and proofreading for the final report was done by: Eileen Brown, David Hayhurst, Michael Lindsay, Daniel McAdams, Reuben Stern and Aubrey Verboven. Sylvia Magyar coordinated desktop publishing and printing with the help of Laszlo Falvay, Cynthia Fedler and Craig Snelgrove.
The Project was coordinated by Magda Tóth Nagy,
I would like to thank them all for their dedication and commitment.
I would also like to thank the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment for their generous support in funding the major part of this project.
Executive Director, REC