Newsletter 5/2010 - Our South East Europe
INTERVIEW with Marta Szigeti Bonifert, Executive Director of Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC)
20 years of Regional Environmental Center
Ms. Bonifert, what is the Regional Environmental Center and what is its core mandate?
The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe or REC is an international organization. It was established in 1990 by the United States, the European Commission and Hungary. In June 2010, the REC celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Its core mission is to assist in solving environmental problems. In order to fulfill this mission, the REC promotes cooperation among governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and other environmental stakeholders. We also support free exchange of information and public participation in environmental decision making.
The REC operates based on a charter of this mission-driven organisation that, since the establishment, has been joined by 29 additional countries, helping it to secure ongoing support to regional and local efforts in Central and South East Europe.
One of the most important activities of the REC was the Regional Environmental Reconstruction Programme for South-Eastern Europe (REReP), through which the REC has provided over 60 million EUR support to the region for institutional strengthening, civil society development and cross-border cooperation.
The REC has its head office in Szentendre, Hungary, and country offices and field offices in 17 beneficiary countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey.
What are the major achievements of REC since the establishment?
I will try to answer this question by using words of the European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik who honoured the recent anniversary by delivering a personal video message to the REC in which he expressed appreciation for REC efforts over the two decades and spoke of existing and future collaboration between the two entities.
Commissioner Potocnik stressed that links between cohesion and environmental action needed to be made even stronger, adding that the work that the REC has been doing for the past 20 years is of real value in this context.
“The REC is a key player at every level, taking environmental and sustainability solutions to those parts of the Union and beyond where they can be used, examined and fed back. The REC is an innovator and essential satellite for our environmental policies in a world where our programmes overlap more and more”, said mister Potocnik.
In addition to its pioneering and ongoing environmental efforts, the REC has also played significant political and economic roles. In its early years, the REC made an important contribution to developing environmental democracy. In recent years it has been helping to prepare countries throughout the region to achieve compliance with the EU environmental acquis and to meet the challenging environmental criteria for the European Union membership.
What were the main obstacles in its functioning so far and how were they overcome?
The REC – as have most organisations throughout the Central and East Europe (CEE) region – has been working within a constantly changing context. Flexibility and a proactive approach make possible the effective response to shifting needs of beneficiaries, different donor strategies and transformed political and financial mechanisms.
Currently the most important challenges derive from the global financial crisis, as most stakeholders have deeper concerns about economic threats than environmental issues.
Despite this recent and ongoing turbulence, the REC aims to hold its course and actively initiate projects and programmes in the CEE region, based on the results of needs assessments and local knowledge through an extensive country office network.
What are the REC’s priorities for action in the next few years?
In the next five years the REC plans to concentrate its activities on two major areas: capacity building for governance for sustainability, and, facilitating the transition towards a green economy and low-carbon society. The REC will also focus on developing regional and local responses to global challenges.
While South-Eastern Europe has yet to reach its highest point of economic growth, the region also has plenty of natural capital and biodiversity – extremely valuable assets within the European Union. In the period 2011-2015 the REC will work locally and nationally with EU candidate countries and potential candidates to be better prepared for accession-related opportunities and challenges.
The REC will also provide a neutral platform for bilateral and multilateral activities. The growing diversification among the countries, as well as their changing priorities and needs will be taken into consideration. In the EU candidate countries the focus will be on enforcement of the EU acquis, placing special emphasis on heavy investment directives. For the potential candidates, the emphasis will be on the further transposition of the EU acquis, especially the development of secondary legislation.
A critical factor for the success of any environmental action is the smooth and efficient operation of environmental institutions, as well as the availability of necessary human and financial resources. Therefore, the strengthening of environmental institutions will be at the core of REC assistance.
How do you see role of Regional Cooperation Council in terms of promotion of regional cooperation?
The REC has already established a very good cooperation with the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), the successor organisation of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. In partnership with the RCC, the REC will continue to support the efforts of SEE countries to respond to environmental challenges and will foster regional cooperation and collaboration.
Marta Szigeti Bonifert became Executive Director of REC in 2003. Before that, she spent 10 years in business working for multinational companies in various senior roles ranging from head of human resources to commercial director. Szigeti Bonifert earned her masters of business administration from the Katz Graduate School of Business from the University of Pittsburgh with a focus on strategy and human resources. Szigeti Bonifert is a member of the Environmental Management and Law Association (EMLA) and was its first managing director. She is also a board member of the Europorosperitas 2010 Foundation.