The project was initiated by the Public Participation Program of the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) in June 1997. Shortly after initiation, the project was joined by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and a group of NGOs from the Newly Independent States (NIS) led by Ecopravo-Lviv. The result of this cooperative project is a four-volume publication analyzing the situation of public participation in all three regions of Europe, including country reports, regional reports on the CEE, NIS and Western European region and a Pan-European assessment.
The three project partners agreed to follow the same methodology. The framework, methodology and content of country and regional reports were discussed and agreed upon in meetings of the REC Public Participation Working Group. The group consists of independent, NGO and government experts from the CEE, NIS and Western countries. They held two meetings, in September 1997 and February 1998, at the REC in Szentendre, Hungary, to establish the methodology.
The draft country reports were prepared by experts from the respective countries and well-known international experts, based on an agreed-upon framework. A questionnaire was designed to investigate legal and institutional framework and practices regarding access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decisionmaking, access to justice and capacity building. The draft country reports which were based on the questionnaire were submitted to government officials for comments before being finalized, although the text remains the responsibility of project partners.
The country reports are broken down into three major sections:
This section illustrates the level of public participation during various phases of the decisionmaking process, and offers an analysis of the results. (See below for further details.)
In this section, we evaluate the progress made in the past three years, identifying major achievements, problems and future needs.
Additional information is provided in the Annex, such as the list of authors with their contact addresses and short CVs; an overview of the status of signature and ratification of selected international legal instruments dealing with access to information, public participation and access to justice provisions in the environmental field; and a copy of the list of indicators used for the regional reports.
Explanation of Charts on Mapping and Evaluating Opportunities for Public Participation
The purpose of this material is to illustrate what level of participation is possible in the different phases of decision making in the various countries. The charts are broken down into main types of decisions, and the level of participation in each of these decisions is rated on a scale of one to five. Instead of looking only at the laws of each country, the charts focus on the actual situation, in other words how the laws are applied in practice. If there is a great difference between the text of the laws and the way they are applied in practice, or if a law is not applied in practice, or if there is a specific practice not outlined by a law, an explanation is included in the text.
The text briefly discusses the limitations and obstacles experienced during the practical implementation of the laws. Recommendations are offered as to how public participation could be improved in concrete decisions.
The charts analyze the following types of decisions:
In the reports we only use charts where there is public participation indicated. Therefore, some countries may have less charts than others, depending on the level of public participation they allow.
Definition of terms used in the section on Public Participation and the section on Mapping and Evaluating Opportunities for Public Participation
The following terms are used when describing the level of public participation:
Decisionmaking is transparent
The public has a general right to access the information necessary to follow the decisionmaking process. The different government agencies are responsible for providing the information upon request, without requiring a statement of interest for the request, under various conditions (time limits, exemptions, right to appeal, etc.). The citizens themselves are responsible for seeking information and their sources. The authorities might also actively provide information about the decisionmaking themselves. The citizens have a right to appeal if they feel their right to access information is violated.
Citizens (the public) have the right to obtain information on decisions concerning specific activities, laws, regulations, projects, policies, programs and plans on the national, regional and local level upon request. The different government authorities are obliged to actively provide information to the public/NGOs affected. The rules on adequate notification include different conditions as to how notification must be handled, including time limits, content of the notice, active and passive obligation of the authorities, etc. Authorities are obliged to give the concerned public free access to all relevant information for examination, upon request, as soon as it becomes available. The information flow should be continuous throughout the decision making process. In most countries, citizens have a right to appeal if they feel their rights to access to information is violated.
Comments are seriously taken into consideration
The concerned or affected public has the right to provide comments or proposals in written format or at a public hearing on the proposed activity or decision. The public authorities gather the comments/suggestions with legal or political commitment to take them into consideration in decision making. There is a legal obligation or political commitment to analyze and take a due account of the outcome of public participation. The public authority makes accessible the text of the decision along with the reasons and considerations on which the decision is based and an explanation of the extent to which the comments have been taken into account. In most countries, the concerned/affected public has a right to appeal if it feels this right is violated.
Decisionmaking power is shared
The interested citizens or NGOs have the right to participate in the decisionmaking and all parties have the same rights. The decision can be the result of joint decisionmaking, but also can be made by a third, independent party, based on the result of joint decisionmaking. In most cases the citizens involved have a right to appeal.
Control of decisionmaking
The public has the right to decide directly on the issue in question. The power of decisionmaking is transferred to the citizens. All citizens have the (same) right to vote in decisionmaking. The decision is made by a simple majority of votes. The result of the decision process is legally binding. Examples include: a referendum on the local or national level, the right to initiate lawmaking or rule making, etc. In most countries, citizens have right to appeal if they feel their right is violated.
Scale of evaluation
The scale of evaluation is based on how often public participation reaches a certain level. The evaluation is based on the expert's judgment. The following criteria are used: