Božović: No benchmark for Chapter 27

Negotiation Group for Chapter 27 with Stana Božović in the middle

The most demanding and largest chapter of the EU acquis, Chapter 27 – Environment and climate change, can face the unique situation by the end of this year, when we are discussing the EU accession process. With ”No benchmark”, Chapter 27 in the negotiations with Serbia could be opened by the end of this year. It all comes with the recommendation from DG ENV and DG CLIMA, to DG NEAR, that will be the one to recommend to Council of Europe just how exactly can the chapter be opened.

Although the EC in its Progress report for the year of 2015, has said for this Chapter that it is in the early stage of preparation, The Government of the Republic of Serbia has adopted the strategic document called ”The status and plans of transposition and implementation of EU acquis for Chapter 27, Environment and Climate change”, based on the proposal of the line Ministry, and this document is the most important document for the opening of the chapter, after the screening processes took place.

Concerning this, and other topics, we will interview Stana Božović, the State secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental protection, who is also the Head of the negotiating group for the Chapter 27.

European Western Balkans: Dear Mrs Božović, at the very beginning, could You please tell us why did the two Directorate generals recommend to open the Chapter 27 without benchmarks? Is this some kind of a unique situation when we compare other states that were or still are in the process of negotiations?

Stana Božović:  Please allow me to remind you that in June 2014. during the visit of Mr Baroso, former President of the EC, we have received an alarming information that the Environment is marked ”red”, as one of the five least prepared chapters for negotiation. Only two years after, by achieving results, hard work and dedication from all the people who are in this process, European Commission is convinced that Serbia is prepared and that has a clear vision for this area. This is a tremendously important recognition for Serbia, that it has received in the course of two years, to shift the Environment from the ”red zone” to the ”green” one, where it belongs.  This would also represent a novelty comparing to the accession processes of candidate countries or recent EU member states, that such a complex and demanding chapter might be opened without benchmarks. For the sake of your readers, I would only like to note that is would be necessary to transpose and adopt approximately 700 different legal acts from the EU acquis to the national legislation, in order to harmonize them.

Also it is necessary to have realistic plans and invest wisely into the environmental infrastructure development, so that we could reach the standards in the waste management in the coming 15 years, and, to reach the standards in the waste water and water management in the next 25 years. And, although your readers might find these period to be quite lengthy, do not forget that we are talking about billions of euros needed for investments.

EWB: In the last year, the efforts of the of the Ministry and the negotiating group  to make the first important steps in this area are quite noticeable. What do you think, what would be the most important step that you’ve made?

SB: One of the strategically most important steps that has been made in the past period would definitely be the adoption of ”Status and plans for transposition and implementation of EU acquis for Chapter 27, Environment and Climate change” document. This document represents the result of an extremely successful cooperation between the DG ENV and DG CLIMA with the Negotiation group for Ch 27 and the Head of the Negotiating team, Mrs Tanja Miščević. It represents the most detailed current status of the Environment sector in Serbia, clear plans for transposition and implementation of the EU acquis, with short-term, mid-term and long-term goals during this process, as well as the financial assessment and expectations, especially when it comes to heavy investment directives, such as Landfill directive, Waste framework directive, Drinking water and Urban waste water treatment directive. By adopting this document, which was developed by joint cooperation of over than 200 national and international experts together with 30 institutions, the Government of Serbia has clearly shown that it knows the size and the need of investments, the realistically expected time frame and mechanisms of implementation. 

EWB: In the past couple of days, there has been some important changes when it comes to the harmonization of national legislation with the EU acquis, especially in the area of environmental protection, waste management and nature protection. Can you tell us more about this?

SB: The amendments to the Law on environmental protection aim to support the continuation of sustainable financing system to this area. One of the most important amendments of this law represents the mechanisms for the establishment of Green funds, as a budgetary fund, that is in line with the Law on budgetary system of Republic of Serbia. Two most important characteristics of the future Green fund that need to be achieved in the coming moths are stability and predictability.

Also, important changes adopted by this law, secure the more efficient accessibility of the information regarding environment and public participation in the decision making process. The amendments of this Law also foresee alignment with the relevant international contracts and legal acts of EU.

The changes adopted in the Law on waste management aim higher level of alignment of national legislation with the EU acquis, more efficient implementation of existing legal acts, industrial development, management of special waste streams, and support to the establishment of national circular economy. 

EWB: Where will the means for the Green fund come from and what will be their purpose? 

SB: The justification for the Green fund as a budgetary system for financing environment comes with the fact that it is necessary to create a sustainable and predictable financial instrument for this area. Our intention is to use the means of the Green fund to co-finance relevant infrastructure projects, resolve all the remaining bottleneck projects at the local level and to invest into the development of human resources for the area of planning, programming, supervision and implementation of standards in the area of environment. The funds will be provided from the environmental tax, based on the ”polluter pays” principle. Beside the local funds (from municipalities and cities) which plans for allocation have got to be approved by the Ministry and which will now have to fit and line with our umbrella documents, Green fund will represent the national instrument of financing. In average, every year there is an income of nearly 55 million euros of these taxes into the budget of Serbia, and we estimate that this income can come up to 70 million euros per year. Indeed, the most important support for our endeavors, we expect from the pre-accession assistance financial instrument of the EU, and, once we become members, we expect this assistance from structural funds. Serbia has at its disposal about 160 million euros from IPA for environment. Our plan is to use IPA funds to finance by 2020. significant waste management and waste water treatment projects in large city centers like Novi Sad, Kragujevac and Nis, together with waste management projects for Kalenic and Zrenjanin regions, and waste water management projects in Kraljevo, Čačak, Brus and Blace. Besides the mentioned sources of funding, we anticipate approximately 22% of total needed investment for environment to come from private funds using the concessions and PPP model. As you can see, Serbia will become one big construction site when it comes to environmental infrastructure. 

EWB: Can you share with us the information how did the Ministry spend the finances from environmental tax so far? 

SB: The means from the eco-tax, that have been the income to the budget of Serbia, have been primarily used for the development of recycling industry and creation of waste management system, development of environmental infrastructure on the local level, removal and final disposal of hazardous waste from state owned companies that went bankrupt or are in the restructuring process, and subsidies to the nature protected areas. Last year only, we have opened the new, 8th waste management region in Serbia, and removed and disposed over 2000 tons of hazardous waste from companies.

EWB: Public is speculating about the investment amounts that are necessary for this chapter. The estimation say that we will be needing around 10 billion euros.  Tanja Miščević says that we will require additional calculations. 

SB: Yes, we will need more detailed calculations in order to know the exact total sum. This is an area that has an ongoing investment process, both from the State and local authorities. Our estimations say that, the total amount of necessary funds for the approximation of environment, only for the necessary investments in the development of infrastructure: landfills, waste management, drinking water, waste water treatment, is around 7.88 billion euros. We are currently developing directive specific implementation plans, and updated strategic frameworks for environmental approximation, which results will assist us in detailed overview of costs.  However, I have to say that while developing our current estimations, we have used the best available techniques and practices from EU countries and recent EU member states, so, it would be justified to expect that this is a correct estimation and that this is the financial framework for investments in this area for the coming period. 

EWB: The issue of human resource management is, together with legislation and financing system for environment, one of the most important issue that the candidate EU countries were facing. What are you doing when it comes to managing this issue?

SB: I would like to inform you that we are fully aware of the this risk, that consists of brain drain from our IPA units, departments that manage EU integration and climate change, but also the issue of insufficient number of people to implement and monitor the transposed acquis, as well as the discontinuity of administration. The Ministry is carefully planning all of its activities fully aware of these risks.

We actively cooperate with the World bank in its effort to implement the project that has been financed by the EC to perform the functional analysis of four Ministries in the Government of Serbia, environment included, so that we could plan our necessary human resource in time and in accordance to obligations that derive from EU accession.

EWB: You have mentioned the World bank, what more can you tell us when it comes to the cooperation with other international organizations and supporting the capacities of Ministry and negotiating group? 

SB: I have to say that our sectoral working groups work closely on every day basis with national and international experts, especially when it comes detailed preparation for negotiations and support to development of negotiation papers. Ministry, in cooperation with Swedish international development Agency SIDA, continues the program of developing capacities of the negotiating group for Chapter 27 and planning of development and financing of environmental infrastructure.

EWB: Dear Mrs Božović, I would like to thank you for your time and to wish you the best of luck during the negotiation process.