In an op-ed piece written for EKOlist magazine, Ambassador Michael Davenport, the Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, answered the question of “What are the challenges ahead of Serbia regarding the chapter 27?” by stressing the importance of negotiations and the chapter 27 itself for the entire process of accession and facts and figures of the support the EU provides to Serbia in helping it to meet environmental standards. Read the full text below:

There’s much more to chapter 27 than the environment: “If we destroy the environment we will have no society,” said American anthropologist Margaret Meade. Our common goal is to secure a life in a safe and healthy environment, within the ecological boundaries of our planet, for our children. To do so, we need to develop an economy and a society that waste nothing and manage natural resources in a sustainable way while protecting and renewing the biodiversity. We have no other choice but to promote the sustainable development and protect our environment for future generations.

EU environmental policy is focused on prevention, environmental protection, pollution reduction and risk management. It permeates all economic sectors, from agriculture to transport. As the pollution of soil and water knows no national boundaries, a third of all EU environment-related regulation deals with the implementation of international conventions, most of which Serbia has already ratified. In addition to the genuine policy, and in order to enforce the ecological standards, it is necessary to have a well-equipped administration at the national and local level.

In the past 40 years, EU’s environmental policy has helped eliminate smog, decrease the risk of respiratory diseases and bring once polluted rivers and lakes back to life in many regions. Thanks to it, we can now swim in a growing number of clean rivers, lakes and seas. The prevention of acid rains has lead to renewal of forests and to an increase in the area they cover. Waste pollution has been brought to an end thanks to waste management. Nearly 20 percent of the EU territory is under protection, offering numerous recreational and economic possibilities. Economic growth is no longer directly dependent on the increase in use of resources and pollution.

At the same time, we are aware that if we don’t change current growth and consumer trends, we will need more than two planets to maintain the world as we know it. For instance, the estimates show that the demand for food, animal feed and fibres would increase by 70 percent by 2050. Old business models threaten the progress, the quality of life, peace and stability. We can no longer afford to perceive the environment policy as a burden.

Ambitious environmental policy is dependent on the overall support of each and every actor and citizen. In Serbia, just as in any other European country, the most concerning environmental issues are the ones related to air and water pollution, waste management and exploitation of natural resources.

For more than 15 years, the EU has been helping Serbia to resolve its environmental issues. In fact, the EU is by far Serbia’s biggest partner in improving the environment and the quality of life. Of the total amount of three billion euros the EU has awarded to Serbia so far, it has allocated approximately a fourth for the environmental policy and climate change. EU grants have helped Serbia to reconstruct the waste water facility in Subotica which now discharges clean water into the Palic lake. Many illegal landfills have been shut down thanks to the EU and the support it provided for the construction of modern waste treatment facilities in Uzice, Sremska Mitrovica, Pozarevac and elsewhere. Citizens of Obrenovac and Belgrade now enjoy cleaner air due to ashfilters installed in thermal power plant Nikola Tesla which the EU funded with 200 million euros.

Serbia needs additional funding and investment to establish administrative structures necessary to implement and enforce EU environmental law, reduce air pollution caused by the industry and transport, secure cleaner potable water for all citizens, connect more households to the sewage system and set up waste collection and management facilities everywhere in the country.

We will continue to strongly support Serbia as it gets closer to the opening of chapter 27. The funding allocated by the EU to the environment will grow larger over time and will see a considerable increase once Serbia joins the Union. The reason for this is that it is not possible to complete all the necessary investments by the date of accession. In previous enlargement cycles the EU approved the transitional period of seven years for such investments. Those periods also depend on Serbia’s ability to lay out a credible time-frame and financial plan that would secure a full harmonisation with EU acquis prior to the jointly agreed date.

I will conclude by saying that the chapter 27 entails much work but also opens up numerous job and economic opportunities and secures a cleaner and improved future for Serbia and its people.