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Shared Values and Commitment

Leena Ylä-Mononen, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency

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We strongly believe that building our cooperation with Western Balkan partners in the years ahead will bring additional value to the EEA and its network, and to our partner countries

The European Environment Agency sees cooperation with our partners from the Western Balkans as one of its key priorities, says Leena Ylä-Mononen, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency. Speaking in this interview for our magazine, she outlines the EEA’s major priorities and developments in this cooperation.

“We have worked over the past 20 years – namely with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo* – to build the capacities of experts and encourage closer cooperation” says Ylä-Mononen. “The Western Balkan countries, like all of us, share the same pressing environmental and climate challenges, so we feel that it’s important to work together to address them.”

As our interlocutor notes, Western Balkan partner countries have collaborated actively with the EEA on a range of activities, working alongside other European countries with the goal of providing information and knowledge to improve the environment and wellbeing of people in the region. This relationship has been built over the course of the past two decades, gradually expanding to encompass full participation in the Agency’s European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet) and contributing valuable input to the network’s mission of sharing environmental information across Europe with the aim of creating improvements in our shared environment.

What major milestones have been reached in integrating Western Balkan partners into the work of the EEA?

― Our cooperation has focused primarily on building the ability of the six cooperating countries to further integrate into the Eionet and all its functions, as well as building reporting capacities in key Eionet dataflows. We cooperate with the region through externally funded projects. The most recent one, launched in 2023, supports further integration into the Eionet network and provides support in implementing the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans. This includes assistance to expand national reporting capacities and integrated assessments in thematic areas relevant to the implementation of the European Union’s Green Agenda.

Western Balkan countries will report according to the same regulation as the EEA members, thus allowing for a more complete picture regarding energy and climate matters

While EEA membership is a political process that the Agency does not influence directly, the joint work is focused on supporting countries in getting technically ready for possible EEA membership in the coming years.

Moreover, 2023 was the first year when the Western Balkan parties were required to report under the adapted Governance Regulation of the Energy Community. The Energy Community is an international organisation with the objective of extending the EU’s energy market to the Western Balkan and Black Sea regions. As part of this endeavour, the six Western Balkan Contracting Parties initiated reporting of their climate and energy data. The EEA provided support to the Contracting Parties by making available reporting software and providing guidance and training. The fact that these parties will report according to the same regulation as the EEA member countries allows for a more complete picture regarding energy and climate matters, facilitating coordination and collaboration.

We strongly believe that building our cooperation with Western Balkan partners in the years ahead will bring additional value to the EEA, its network and partner countries. What’s more, it will also benefit all our citizens as we work to improve our environment and work towards meeting our ambitions for a sustainable future.

What are the major tasks at the national level and in which areas is regional-level cooperation indispensable?

― At the national level, our collaboration with Western Balkan partner countries focuses on key priorities outlined in the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, specifically addressing the zero-pollution agenda (air, water, soil), biodiversity and the circular economy. At the same time, we actively invest in strengthening national Eionet networks while fostering vital regional and EEA-wide connections.

The six cooperating partners underscore the regional significance of our joint activities. Much of our collaborative efforts are inherently regional in nature, which highlights the fact that environmental challenges transcend borders. This echoes the essence of the way the EEA works, reinforcing our commitment to a shared and sustainable future guided by collective responsibility. In the context of the Energy Community project, national activities focus on providing guidance and training. This includes developing guidance documents and furthering bilateral support through virtual and in-person training. As the Western Balkan Contracting Parties share similar challenges, regional exchanges are encouraged through experience sharing in webinars and multilateral meetings.

COMMITMENT

The Western Balkan countries, like all of us, share the same pressing environmental and climate challenges, so we feel that it’s important to work together to address them.

SUPPORT

The focus of our joint work is on supporting the Western Balkan countries in becoming technically ready for possible EEA membership in the coming years.

COOPERATION

Environmental challenges transcend borders, which is why regional collaboration across the region is so important .

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