A long-time focus for our work has been on agriculture and rural development policy, particularly within the new EU member states of Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, where we have been closely involved in the programming for future use of EU funds – seeking to ensure that the funds are used to enhance rather than destroy the rich natural heritage of these countries.
As the programming for the 2007-13 financial period for EU funds nears completion, our focus is increasingly on the actual implementation of these funds – ensuring that the committed funds in fact go toward the purposes intended.
At the same time, we are working to identify and promote awareness of the agricultural areas across our region that are especially rich in natural values - so-called High Nature Value Farmlands.
We are also increasingly looking for ways to harness the private sector to promote and finance nature conservation and sustainable development, for example by developing payments for ecosystem services or other sustainable financing mechanisms.
We have targetted a number of areas around the region, such as Maramures in northern Romania, where we seek to bring these different approaches to bear on the ground and with local farmers and other stakeholders.
The EU support – up to €8 billion for Romania and Bulgaria for the seven-year period – can provide much needed funds for addressing past environmental problems, supporting nature conservation and promoting sustainable development in the region.
But it can just as easily – in fact, more easily – finance activities with a long-term negative impact on the environment, from factory-farming to large-scale infrastructure projects.
Our aim has been to tip the balance between unsustainable to sustainable uses of the funds.
In this work, we have worked closely with relevant authorities, EU officials, NGO partners and other stakeholders in preparation and programming for the agricultural and regional development funds in Romania, Bulgaria, and, through our partner organisation Daphne, in Slovakia.
Programming for use of funds
Our work first focused on use of EU pre-accession funds, especially on support for agri-environment, rare breeds, less favoured areas and organic food production.
More recently, our work has revolved around programming for use of EU funds in the 2007-13 financial period, particularly through the new European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and to a lesser extent the Structural Funds. Also relevant in this respect are funds provided through the European Free Trade Agreement by Norway and possibly Switzerland.
We have also focused on building capacity of other stakeholders, including other NGOs as well as protected area and other authorities to actively participate in and eventually draw on these funding sources.