Protecting the Environment in Central Europe

By Schofield, Peter | Contemporary Review, October 1992 | Go to article overview

Protecting the Environment in Central Europe

Schofield, Peter, Contemporary Review

THE recent President of Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Havel, said: |There are no environmental borders just as there are no borders to freedom'. The 1989 |velvet revolutions' were the outcome of a social need to experience the kind of freedom we in the West take for granted but which were denied to the people in the East under Communist rule. In the Central European countries of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, the Central European Three (CET), the new freedom released a deluge of ideas which frustrated environmentalists had been unable to develop in a system where the State was suspicious of any form of social organisation not under its control. In several European countries, including Finland in 1986, France and Netherlands in 1990, and Britain in 1990, governments had reviewed and revised their environmental policies. Changes were taking place at the international level too. The European Commission produced its Habitats Directive in 1991, and in October of the same year the UN-sponsored |Caring for the Earth -- A strategy for sustainable living', was published. The European Community Fifth Action Programme is currently being drafted and should come into force by 1993. Concerns for the environment, for sustainable development, for bio-diversity treaties and for the reduction of pollution to |acceptable levels' are expressed daily and reached a peak at Rio in June 1992. It is against such a background that new attitudes for the environment are being developed in CET. The Central Europeans have not been slow in their involvement in the international scheme.

There is a growing feeling in Central Europe, expressed in 1991 by Mr. Vavrosek, the Czechoslovakian Minister for the Environment, that there should be a Council of European Environment Ministers, responsible for overseeing the evaluation of environmental impacts, setting targets and priorities, building and monitoring an information system, strengthening environmental law and boosting environmental education. Mr. Vavrosek considered a second step should be to set up the European Environmental Agency as planned by the European Commission, but open for membership to countries in both central and western Europe.

The momentous events of the |velvet revolutions' gave the people and politicians in Central Europe an opportunity to examine the complete structure and workings of their society for the first time in over forty years, and environmentalists outside the Eastern bloc wanted to see how CET would respond. Not only were internal issues and policies of interest but how would CET react to and take advantage of the wider European opportunities which presented themselves? There was a unique opportunity to design new strategies and enact legislation, which would provide an integrated approach to the future running of the country by combining the needs of society, the economy and the environment for the benefit of all. Not since the end of the Second World War had such an opportunity presented itself to the politicians and planners of any nation, but then the concerns of society were on a different scale and the threats to the environment were not so widespread or apparent as they are today. Technological developments and increased expectations of the people during the past forty years have resulted in a new dimension of interaction between people and their environment, which cannot be ignored as they were in the 1950s. Concern for the environment and the remedial measures necessary to repair damage and degradation can no longer be considered as a luxury; environmental programmes are not the |icing on the cake' once economic and social needs have been satisfied. It is much more costly to repair environmental damage than it is to prevent it occurring in the first instance. Despite Vaclav Havel's optimistic pronouncements reliable sources in Central Europe continue to write with dismay that the new Czech Prime Minister, Mr. Klaus, is not attuned to such environmental thinking. …

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