Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

  The OECD/EAP Task Force Secretariat was asked by the Committee on European Communities of the House of Lords (UK) to provide its views on the environmental aspects of the European Union TACIS programme. TACIS provides technical assistance to the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union. This memorandum has been prepared on the basis of experience of the Secretariat in co-operating with several TACIS environmental projects and NIS representatives active in the EAP Task Force. The views expressed in the memorandum, however, may not reflect those of the OECD, EAP Task Force or the members of these bodies.


EAP Task Force and its Secretariat at the OECD

  OECD work on environment in the NIS is carried out through the Secretariat of the Task Force for the implementation of the Environmental Action Programme (EAP) for Central Eastern Europe (CEE). The Task Force was established by Environment Ministers from the European region, USA and Canada at the "Environment for Europe" Conference in Lucerne in 1993 as an ad hoc body comprising CEE countries and the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union (NIS)[3] and Western governments, International Financing Institutions (IFIs) and international organisations. In Task Force work, representatives of Environmental Citizens Organisations (ECOs), Parliaments, Trade Unions and industry participate as partners. The main goal of the EAP Task Force has been to assist CEE/NIS countries in environmental improvement through building effective policy and institutional frameworks. The Task Force Secretariat is located in the Non-Member Countries Branch of OECD's Environment Directorate.

  The Environmental Action Programme provides a methodology for transition countries to identify economically efficient and environmentally effective solutions to their specific environmental problems. Countries participating in the EAP Task Force agreed to implement the EAP principles at the country level through the development of National Environmental Action Plans (NEAPs). The Task Force work focuses on three main areas:

    —  the development and implementation of NEAPs;

    —  environmental financing; and

    —  environmental management in enterprises.

Project Preparation Committee (PPC)

  At the Lucerne Conference, the Ministers have also established the PPC, a sister-organisation of the EAP Task Force, to facilitate external environmental investments. The PPC functions as a network of donors and IFIs. The secretariat is based at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Environmental Conditions and Policy Framework in the NIS

  After several years of transition, environmental conditions in the NIS continue to be very difficult. Following major declines in output, the level of pollution went down. most countries are now slowly returning to the path of economic growth, but there has not been strong evidence of de-coupling of pollution and growth levels. Resource intensity of GDP remains high due to lack of economic restructuring and technological upgrading. At the same time problems of past pollution remain unresolved. Lack of public financing for basic environmental services brought some of them, such as water treatment, to the edge of collapse in several NIS. There are a number of emerging problems caused by changes of consumption patterns, including household waste generation and pollution from transport. There are some recent reports, such as Europe's Environmental Assessment "Dobris+3" prepared by the European Environmental Agency and the World Bank analysis of the environmental situation in the NIS prepared for the "Environment for Europe" Ministerial Conference, in June 1998 in Denmark, which present a more detailed analysis of the state of the environment in the NIS.

  The slow pace of economic, political and social reforms hindered improvement of environmental conditions in the NIS. Lack of demand for environmental improvements, weak policy and regulatory frameworks and inadequate institutional capacity to deal with environmental problems, have been identified as major stumbling blocks for further progress. In order to strengthen environmental policy frameworks, several New Independent States have developed National Environmental Action Programmes which are designed to help national environmental authorities to tackle urgent environmental problems and to ensure the development of long-term environmental strategies aiming at sustainable development. Following a request by Ministers at the third "Environment for Europe" Conference in Sofia in 1995, the EAP Task Force prepared reports evaluating progress made by CEEC and NIS in the areas of NEAPs, environmental financing and environmental management in enterprises. These assessment reports will be presented at the ministerial conference in Denmark. For more detailed evaluation please refer to the documents provided separately.


  Efficient and well co-ordinated assistance of the donor countries and the IFIs is needed to help the NIS to address past and emerging environmental problems. TACIS, as a special instrument designed to provide technical assistance to the NIS, has played an important role in this respect. Over the last five years, the OECD/Task Force Secretariat has been involved to a different degree in a number of TACIS projects on environment, including the following:

    —  Development of Common Environmental Policies.

    —  Raising Environmental Awareness.

    —  Widening of the EAP.

    —  Establishment of the new regional environmental centres.

    —  Project preparation capacity building in Ukraine.

    —  Promotion of Cleaner Production in the NIS.

  Based on this experience, and mainly on comments by the NIS countries active in the Task Force, the OECD/EAP Task Force Secretariat would like to make the following comments on TACIS activities in the field of environmental protection, which cover several points of the questionnaire. Numbering follows the original questions.

1. Environmental problems in the NIS

  As mentioned above fundamental obstacles for environmental improvements in the NIS include weak policy framework and institutional capacity of environmental authorities. At the same time economic hardship and difficult process of building civic societies led to low political and public demand for environmental improvements. The slow pace of economic, political and social reforms in the NIS and very limited (in some NIS virtually zero) financial resources for environmental investments, serious impediments. Foreign technical and financial assistance plays an important, and sometimes key, role for promoting environmental protection in many NIS. Weak environmental institutions and low political priority for the environment within NIS governments have created obstacles to the development and implementation of effective assistance programmes. Unclear environmental priorities and cultural differences imposed further hurdles for efficient donor-recipient communication.

2 and 5. Priorities of TACIS and emphasis on environment in 1996 TACIS Regulations

  European Union support to the NIS has operated on the basis of demand-driven country programmes. In such programmes, however, environment has not been among the priority areas, and there has not been a special funding for it. Responding to such a situation TACIS officials have argued that NIS governments have not assigned a priority to environmental issues in their requests for assistance. Indeed, the NIS governments are preoccupied with problems of economic and social sectors, and often place environmental issues low on their agenda. Nevertheless, Task Force members who represent environmental authorities, on several occasions strongly voiced the importance of environment protection measures for the success of sustainable economic reforms in their countries. Recently TACIS established the Interstate Environmental Programme for all the NIS, together with provisions for environmental components in country programmes for Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine.

3. Relationship of TACIS and other ODA

  The EAP Task Force and the PPC have provided fora for donors and the IFIs to co-ordinate their environmental assistance. NIS representatives argued on several occasions that TACIS has not always used those opportunities effectively. Recently, TACIS has made special efforts to improve its co-operation with other assistance programmes, particularly in supporting environmental investments being prepared by the PPC. Examples include TACIS grant funding for the preparation of the World Bank lending. Further improvements are possible in terms of co-ordination of TACIS activities with other donors. In this regard, it is important to recognise the comparative advantages of TACIS assistance, its size (it appears to be the largest donor programme); the opportunity to provide grant support to countries with severe financial constraints; the relative lack of conditionality. Technical assistance would become even more effective when it is followed by specific and well-focused investments supported by TACIS and other donors.

6. TACIS as a "people to people" programme

  One of the main advantages of the TACIS programme is the diverse forms of assistance it can provide to recipient countries. This includes policy and expert advice, training seminars and study tours, creation of documentation libraries, translation of best practices and manuals into national languages, provisions for equipment and others. Recipients of TACIS assistance are diverse as well, ranging from governmental officials and Members of Parliaments to NGOs and professional groups.

  The main obstacles to effective co-operation between TACIS and the NIS identified in the context of the Task Force include the following:

    —  lack of transparency of TACIS decision-making and management structures; lack of information about procedures, timetables, available sources of funding to the NIS;

    —  long and bureaucratic procedures for project applications and reporting;

    —  poor consultation procedures with recipient countries at an early stage of planning of priority areas and the design of programmes;

    —  serious delays with project approval and implementation to the point where projects become outdated;

    —  lack of flexibility in adjusting project implementation in light of changing circumstances;

    —  overemphasis on the Interstate Environmental Programme allocations which is politically not acceptable by all NIS; even though the size of the Programme is significant. Some NIS would prefer to shift towards more country or sub-regional approaches;

    —  "unfair" distribution of funds between Western and local consultants.

7. Commission's organisation and resources needed for efficient management

  TACIS has been working to satisfy operational requirements of the EC on the one hand, and to cope with unstable and sometimes obscure institutional arrangements in the NIS on the other hand. Lack of staff and unclear division of tasks in some TACIS environmental projects have hindered project management. NIS participants to the EAP Task Force have often provided the following comments on the subject of efficient resource management in TACIS:

    —  too few staff;

    —  confusion within most NIS about who is doing what in TACIS, and lack of co-ordination between programmes, e.g., interstate v country environmental budgets;

    —  overlap of management and planning of projects;

    —  unclear role of TACIS in-country offices; there are no, or very few staff in the country offices with the mandate or expertise to deal with the environment.

9. How to obtain best value from consultants and to ensure "ownership"

  Transfer of knowledge from the West to the East, supported by TACIS projects, is an important element in effective development assistance. Economic, social and cultural differences between these two regions often make the application of Western experience difficult. The NIS representatives mentioned the following most common difficulties, and suggested several possible solutions:

    —  there is a perception that TACIS tend to hire the same, usually large, consultants to implement their projects in the NIS, so there might be a need for more diversification depending upon the project needs;

    —  NIS expect more frequent contacts with TACIS about consultants to ensure their acceptability (e.g., the NEAP project managed by ERM was a good example of a consultation process where the needs of each country were assessed individually with national experts prior to the selection of consultants);

    —  the largest portion of project funds is often consumed by Western consultants, who sometimes are not sufficiently familiar with local conditions; a better balance could be achieved between the share of consultants' fees in the total budgets and the funding provided for other needs, including fees for local experts and equipment;

    —  TACIS has often funded short-term consultants in the NIS; long-term in-country advisors have been used less although evidence suggests that they may be more effective in covering gaps in specific skills and supporting in-country processes;

    —  CEE experts have a great deal to offer NIS countries and could be included more frequently in TACIS projects, they may often provide greater value than consultants from EU countries.

10. Environmental NGOs in the NIS and how TACIS helps to strengthen them

  Low public and political demand for better environmental quality is one of the main obstacles to progress in environmental improvement in the NIS. Efforts aimed at increasing environmental awareness and building civic societies in the NIS are urgently needed. Assistance provided by TACIS to NGOs, Parliaments, media groups and government officials has often been unique and appreciated by the recipients.

    —  the TACIS Environmental Awareness Raising Project is judged to have been rather successful in developing environmental awareness: the target group has been clearly identified (media, parliaments), some innovative methods introduced (radio soap opera, provision of equipment for journalists); though a final judgment would require an assessment of the cost-effectiveness of the project;

    —  another example in which TACIS supported the establishment of new regional environmental centres presents an attempt to apply in the NIS a model from Central Europe. However, it was difficult to secure support for a centralized, region-wide organisation, and alternative solutions were not obvious. As a result the process of establishment of new RECs has been slow, accompanied by changes of consultants and considerable frustration of participants in the process;

    —  under the project on Common Environmental Policies, seminars on public participation were organized for environmental ministries. It is too early, however, to assess the effectiveness of these activities.

11. Lessons from PHARE which could be useful for TACIS

  At the beginning of its operations in CEE, PHARE programme received a lot of criticism. Over time, however, the effectiveness of the programme has improved significantly. The strongest points of PHARE, which could become useful for TACIS, include the following:

    —  clear procedures for projects management and evaluation;

    —  technical assistance was closely linked to, or followed by, investments;

    —  long-term capacity building by using in-country advisors;

    —  institutional strengthening (e.g., creation of Project Implementation Units in Ministries of Environment);

  The most extensive and positive example of co-operation involving the EAP Task Force and PHARE was in the management of the Project Preparation Facility which provides institutional strengthening assistance to environmental funds in CEE. The EAP Task Force had established a network of Environmental Funds managers. Subsequent co-operation between PHARE and the Task Force Secretariat at the priority identification, design and implementation stages has resulted in a project which responded to CEE needs while helping to achieve PHARE objectives.

12. The role of the European Environmental Agency in relation to TACIS

  TACIS has provided financial support to the EEA during their work on Europe's Environment Assessment report, particularly the work with NIS data. Nevertheless, the NIS representatives have criticized TACIS for not providing funds for the translation of this assessment report into the Russian language.


  It is expected that over the next few years, the EAP Task Force will re-focus its work to provide more specific assistance to the NIS. As it is mentioned in the reports prepared for the Ministerial Conference in Aarhus, Denmark, the NIS has not received support from donors and the IFIs comparable with that provided to CEE countries. There is a need for increased resources to assist NIS in coping with their immense environmental problems and keeping with the growing capacity of the NIS to use such assistance effectively. However, many donors have less immediate interest and frequently limited or no mandate to work in these countries. Since TACIS resources are probably the single largest source of donor support to the NIS it is essential they are used efficiently and effectively and are well co-ordinated with the activities of IFIs and other donors.

Krzysztof Micholak


18 June 1998

3   Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine joined the EAP Task Force in 1993, the other NIS in 1995. Tadjikistan and Turkmenistan have not participated in the Task Force work so far. Back

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