I bet you’ve heard this thousands of times: research and the academic world are always one step behind what’s going on in the ‘real world’. No matter how cliché this might be, it is true, be it due to the time eaten up by review and publication or intentional submersion in abstract theoretical debates.
This introduction is indeed misleading, because this post is not an analysis of the gap between research and practice, but the showcase of an essay that I wrote this year on the impact of accession on Romania’s environmental policy. The reason I started rambling on about research is that if one looks at Romania’s environmental policy and most of the reports, it is most probable that he won’t discover what NGOs have been screaming about for the past decade: illegal deforestation, decaying industrial sites and widespread poaching, just listing a few of the systemic problems.
I hope you will enjoy reading this piece and I welcome your thoughts about the issue or about the research gap. *
How Did Accession to the European Union Impact Romanian Environmental Policy?
Next year Romania will celebrate 10 years since its accession to the European Union (EU) and 28 years since it regained democracy. Going from a seemingly non-existent environmental policy as a socialist state, to a country dedicated to the Europe 2020 targets is a long way in just over three decades and a half. This begs the question of how much of this evolution can be linked to its accession to the EU. While a large body of literature has been dedicated to the effects of enlargement on the environmental policy of the Union, there are few comprehensive assessments on the effects it had on the new member states. This paper attempts to shed some light on the case of Romania by looking at the changes in legislation with the integration of the environmental acquis communautaire and the effectiveness of its implementation. Before developing the assessment, the first two sections will lay the conceptual and historical foundation for the discussion. The third section will analyse the overall challenges of Romanian environmental policy (REP). The fourth section will look at each sub-group of policies as outlines by international evaluations (air, waste, water and biodiversity). Finally, the paper will conclude that Romania’s accession to the EU had an overall positive impact on environmental policy, despite some discrepancies between the legal provisions and implementation.
Accession and enlargement are two sides of the same coin. While accession refers to the process of a country joining the EU, enlargement refers to the process of the EU expanding horizontally. Both processes are generally considered as gradual, even though some scholars restrict them only to the signing of the Accession Agreement by the candidate country (Faber, 2009).
This is relevant because they allow us to understand transformative power of the EU. Enlargement is seen as EU’s strongest foreign policy tool, because access to the common market is used as a ‘carrot’ which incentivizes candidates to make structural reforms (Brady, 2007; Bohle, 2003). Future accession starts to influence candidates even before formal proceedings begin and this process intensifies with each step in the negotiations. Consequently, one can trace the influence of the EU many years before the accession date. The following section will look at how Romania changed in the years leading up to 2007.
Moreover, accession is a formal process, being enshrined in the Treaty of the European Union under articles 2 and 49 (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier, 2002). The candidates need to meet the eligibility criteria defined by the Copenhagen meeting of the European Council in June 1993: stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, a functioning market economy and the ability to implement the obligations of membership (EUR-Lex, 2015). Moreover, they need to go through a staged procedure monitored by the European Commission (EC). This again puts pressure on the candidate country as they have clear objectives and a clear implementation plan. The effectiveness of this pressure can be seen in the relatively fast transposition of the lengthy and complex aquis, but also, in the slowing down of the integration process after accession, which has been termed by some scholars as ‘post-accession fatigue’ (Rupnik and Zielonka, 2013). This can also be observed in the field of environmental policy and, more generally in the case of Romania.
‘Sustainable development’ is a highly contested notion, due to its vagueness and its relationship with the crises of justice and crisis of nature of the global environment (Sachs, 1999). As it is not within the scope of this paper to test the validity of the concept, the mainstream definition will be employed: ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ (WCED, 1987: 41).
This definition is relevant in the current context, as it sustainable development is enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon and defined as ‘a fundamental objective’ of the EU (European Council, 2009). Hence, it is expected that the EU would promote and encourage sustainable development in the new member states. Whether this is the case has been a contested issue.
On the one hand, researchers argue that accession, together with the intensification of liberalization had a positive impact on the sustainability of new member states (NMS) (Crisen and Carmin, 2011; Archibald et at., 2004). One perspective is given by the Kuznets curve that show how environmental damages increase with the increase of consumption in the short term, but in the long term, the rise in income leads to an increase in sustainability (Archibald et al., 2004).
On the other hand, Inotai and others argue that the EU favored liberalization over sustainable development, with the result that transnational corporations took advantage of the situation in NMS (2009). For example, they chose to build facilities on ‘green-field’ sites rather than assuming the responsibility of upgrading existing industrial sites (Pavlínek and Pickles, 2004). Gille go to the extent of saying that the EU promotes ‘unsustainable development’ (cited in Kramer, 2004: 300).
Through the assessment of each group of environmental policies in the fourth part, it will be assessed the extent to which sustainable development was encouraged in Romania.
Socialist Environmental Policy and Industrial Development
The general argument is that the socialist past of Eastern European countries is the main cause for their laggard environmental policy and poor rankings in environmental classifications (Skjærseth and Wettestad, 2007). This was also the case for Romania, due to its combination of rich natural resources and politically driven economic development.
The instauration of communism in Romania after the Second World War, mean that, like in the other socialist countries, the majority of land and production facilities were nationalized. These assets were employed in fulfilling the five year plans of the Communist Party which had the aim of transforming Romania from an agrarian to an industrialized country.
While this process was fairly slow in the first decades of communist rule, it was particularly intensified in the 1960s, after the election of a new general secretary, Nicolae Ceauşescu, who ruled the country until 1989. During his rule technocrats were replace with political activists, making industrialization more a propaganda tool than an instrument of economic development (Dăianu and Murgescu, 2013).
The result was an exponential growth of heavy industry and ambitious infrastructure projects – 15 to 20% per year (Scurtu, 2011). The new facilities were particularly polluting, being centred on steel and cement manufacturing, petrochemistry and mining. Consequently, they had a big impact on the environment, waste water being discharged with little treatment and air pollution not being monitored – Kramer approximates that only 20% of main water courses were able to provide drinking water (1983). This was further intensified by the fact that Romania is a country rich in ground resources (ferrous and non-ferrous metals, uranium etc.) and energy resources (hard coal, lignite, gas and oil). Thus production tended to be characterized by inefficient utilization of resources and high energy consumption (Arouri et al., 2012).
Despite the increase of the share of industry in the economy, agriculture continued to be an important sector. However, agricultural policy was equally harming the environment, as it led to soil degradation and further water contamination. It did so through intensive farming after the collectivization process and an increase usage of pesticides (Pavlínek and Pickles, 2004).
In conclusion, the environmental policy was almost non-existent in Romania before 1989, therefore the ‘cocktail’ of abundance of resources and propagandistic economic planning led to environmental degradation, whose consequences are felt even today. There are however a few voices advocating that the industrial development of western countries was not much more environmental friendly in the post-war decades (Inotai, 2009).
Transition to Democracy and Market Economy
The economic development of socialist states after 1990 was called ‘the most dramatic episode of economic liberalisation in economic history’ (Murrell, 1996: 31). This had positive and negative effects on the Romanian economy and environment. The last decade of the 20th century was marked by high economic volatility with consumption fuelled growth falling drastically following the first economic crisis of 1992 (71% reduction in GDP). Despite experiencing growth again after 1993, Romania was hit by yet another crisis in 1996 which led to further decrease in output (Dăianu and Murgescu, 2013). This is relevant in the current context as the attention of the Romanian public opinion and political class was directed towards the economic and political struggles, with the environment in the background.
Moreover, Romania experienced a phase of ‘clean up by default’ as environmental indicators improved considerably during this decade, especially air quality, in line with the drastic decrease in industrial activity: industrial output decreased 40.8% (1999 compared to 1989) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 47% (from 1989 to 2001) (EEA, 2005). However, deindustrialization also brought new environmental treats in the form of mismanagement of old production and extraction facilities. An illustrative example is the largest environmental accident in Central and Eastern Europe when cyanide leaked into the Tisa River from the decaying retention tanks of the newly privatized Baia Mare complex (Pavlínek and Pickles, 2004). While Baia Mare was a major problem, it was not an exception, as privatization rarely included environmental assessments.
Even when privatization was successful and had a positive effect on the economy, its environmental impact was still negative. Big industrial conglomerates took over production and continued ‘dirty exports’ from Romania, which maintained their majoritarian share of the economy (45%) (Murgescu, 2010). Moreover, the successful privatization of the car manufacturing sector encouraged car ownership with the new Renault owned factory increasing production three times between 2005 and 2008 (Murgescu, 2010) and most of their production being bought nationally.
Nonetheless, the first decade of democracy also brought advancements in environmental policy with the Romanian government creating the first framework for environmental protection, which introduced monitoring, sanctions against infringement of environmental legislation, classification of dangerous chemicals and protection of biodiversity (EC, 2001). This showed the willingness of the government to deal with the socialist legacy described above. Moreover, on the international stage Romania became more and more active in fighting climate change with the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.
Concerning its relations with the EU, Romania became in 1974 the first country of the Eastern Bloc to have relations with the EU (at that time European Community) (EC, 2007). Cooperation grew in the 1990s with the Trade and Co-operation Agreement signed in 1991 and the Europe Agreement in 1995. Nevertheless, the 2000s was the decade where relations intensified as Romania tried to close the 31 chapters of its accession (Murgescu, 2010). Still there were important difficulties incorporating the environmental aquis (Ioniţă and Mihu, 2012). The European Commissioner at that time, Margot Wallstrom was quoted saying that ’environment will be one of the most difficult chapters to close in the accession negotiations’ (cited in Kramer, 2004: 290). This was made obvious in 2004, when the chapter was still not signed (EC, 2004).
General Challenges for a Progressive Environmental Policy
While the last section will look in more depth at each policy field, there are some challenges which affect all environmental policies regardless of the issue they are tackling. They are: the consequences of the socialist legacy, funding, administrative capacity, democracy. While the socialist legacy has been dealt with extensively above, the other challenges will be developed further below.
Since the start of the negotiations, the gap between the environmental investment needed and the capacity of Romania to finance these investments was made evident. The European Commission approximated that 22,000 million euros would be needed for Romania to implement the environmental regulation (2001). They identified several investment heavy directives, summarized in Table 1.
Source: EC, 2001: 6
Most of the funding for adjustment came from the national budget, which was expected to rise the share of environmental expenditure to 2-3%. Nonetheless, external donors, such as the World Bank, pledged 1 billion dollars (approximately 923.5 million euros) (Mediafax cited in Kramer, 2004). Moreover, the EU contributed financially before and after 2007. Pre-accession funding was mainly through three programs PHARE, SAPARD and ISPA and amounted to 1,023 million euros. After accession Romania was expected to receive 10.5 billion euros through structural and agricultural funds, 50 million through the Transition facility and 559.8 million through the Schengen facility (EC, 2007). Overall, we can observe a stark difference between what was needed and what was available.
Furthermore, some issues arose concerning the extent to which the EU funding, both before and after accession, promoted sustainable development. First of all, pre-accession funding was heavily diverted towards infrastructure building, which encouraged car ownership and in some cases threatened bio-diversity. Moreover, SAPARD was criticized for encouraging intensive agriculture (CEE Bankwatch Network and Friends of the Earth Europe, 2000). Finnally, environmental impact assessment was done very late in the accession process.
Regarding post-accession funding the problem of sustainability persists. Despite some funding being directed towards improvement of the local environment through the second pillar of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), the overall sustainability problems of the CAP were transferred to Romania as well. Moreover, Filipescu pointed out that the figures are deceiving as they depend on the absorption rate of each country, with Romania absorbing 0 euros in 2007 (2009). Finally, Romania, like the other new member states, had limited access to EU funds: 25% of CAP and structural funds limited to 4% of GDP (Bohle, 2003).
Administrative capacity was identified as the second biggest challenge to environmental policy, with Romania ranked lowest among the 13 candidate countries (EC, 2001). This is because an ambitious environmental policy on paper, but lacking monitoring and sanctioning mechanisms on the ground amounts to little change. As a result of the socialist legacy, environmental policy in Romania is spread across many ministries and agencies. While this is not necessarily problematic, it negatively impacts environmental policy because there is little coordination between the institutions (Kramer, 2004). Moreover, there is the systemic problem of staffing: insufficient employees, low level of training and concentrated at the national level. Delegation in the field of environment remains very low, despite changes in legislation, with local authorities finding it hard to manage the new responsibilities (Ecotec, 2000). This issue is closely linked with the problem of funding as the post-accession period coincided with the austerity measures which aimed to balance the budget after the 2008 crisis (Stoiciu, 2012).
Thirdly, the democratic challenge was highlighted in multiple country evaluation reports. They point out how the development of the environmental policy in the years leading up to accession was mainly political and technocratic and lacked serious public consultation (Europolitics, 2003). This diminished the effectiveness of environmental policy as sustainable consumption and other practices such as recycling were not embraced by the population. Again this dimension is linked with funding as there is little government funding for NGOs. A study of NGO’s in the region showed that the majority are in ‘unstable, poor, or very poor financial state’ (Regional Environment Centre cited in Kramer, 2004: 302). Moreover, the socialist legacy also influences this dimension, with civil society still being underdeveloped and under-represented in policy-making. As there is little data on the number of NGOs, a secondary indicator can be used to show the level of public involvement in Romania. When compared to other EU member states in terms of participation of volunteers, Romania has ‘relatively low participation’ (10-19%) compared to Germany, for example, which has ‘high participation’ (30-39%) (GHK, 2010).
Finally, when evaluating the effect of accession on REP one has to take into account the multiple transitional arrangements and derogations from some EU directives. While the Accession Treaty specifies that these provisions are exceptional and strictly monitored by the Commission, they are nonetheless, extensive (EC, 2005). For example, in the case of the pollution generated by large combustion plants Romania has until 2017 to comply with regulation. The same applies in the case of municipal waste. Although these derogations allow for more realistic restructuring, they diminish the progressive impact of the EU on the REP.
In conclusion, just transposing EU environmental legislation does not guarantee a better environmental policy. While it provides a solid and transparent framework for implementation, without the necessary funding, administrative capacities and involvement of the public its effectiveness is severely diminished and it can become empty words. In the next section will reveal how these challenges effect the main policy areas.
While air pollution consists of several substances released in the atmosphere, this section will look at air pollution as a whole, in order to have a more complete view of the issue. In Romania the biggest polluters in order of importance are energy production, transport, agriculture and waste; each will be dealt with in more details below (EEA, 2013). The accession to the EU significantly improved emission monitoring and indexing provisions, with the Romanian Government adopting an integrated pollution prevention and control system (GEO 152/2005, implementing Directive 96/61/EC) (Ioniţă and Mihu, 2012). For example monitoring stations were introduced in big cities such as Ploieşti or Bucharest (EU-Romania Joint Consultative Committee, 2004). Nonetheless, air monitoring is particularly affected by the low administrative capacity and financial resources, which result in sometimes poor understanding of the data collected. More importantly, sanctioning of infringements does not act as a deterrent mechanism for violators (Ecotec, 2000).
The energy sector emits 70% of all GHG in Romania, as it is heavily reliant on fossil fuels and 80% of the facilities are considered obsolete by current standards (Xie, 2014). Despite growing alternative, cleaner energy sources (15 to 22 per cent from 2000 to 2011), implementation of EU directives in this field is considered low, even in the context of full transposition (Xie, 2014).
The impact of EU accession on the second biggest emitter, transport, was mixed. The EU regulation of transport emissions was implemented more successfully than in the case of the energy sector. However, accession did not encourage sustainable transport solutions. Demand for public transport and rail continued to drop even after accession, despite being set as a priority for EU funding (CEE Bankwatch Network and Friends of the Earth Europe, 2000). Most of the pre-accession funds were directed at road infrastructure that encouraged car ownership. Consequently, this aggravated the problem of motorisation in Romania. While government funding helped the elimination of old two-stroke engines vehicles, it encouraged car production (Guvernul României, 2015). This is reflected in Table 2.
Source: Xie, 2014: 56.
Agriculture makes for 10% of GHG emissions in Romania, notably ammonia, methane and nitrous oxide. While production decreased in the 1990s, accession generated an intensification of production, especially in the poultry sector (EEA, 2004). Despite predictions showing that a reversal to the 1980s levels is unlikely, this increase in emissions from agriculture highlights the systemic flaws of the CAP.
In the case of waste, high levels of pollution are mentained due to the use of landfils which do not trap resulting gases of bio-mass decomposition. Nonetheless, EU accession through the 2007 – 2013 Operating Program brought investment and expertise in this area, which are expected to improve the situation (Xie, 2014).
After 1989 the system for collection of glass and paper collapsed and recycling was almost non-existent in the first decade of democracy (Pavlínek and Pickles, 2004). As the vast majority of waste was landfilled, the transposition of Directive 2008/98/EC on waste into Law 211/2011 was a significant step forward for the REP. It gave the Ministry for Environment, Water and Forestry the legal tools to tackle the rampant illegal dumping. Nonetheless, further steps are needed to increase the sustainability of the Romanian waste collection system, as recycling continued to be very low even after accession: 2% in 2013 (Almasi, 2013).
A 2007 study of water quality in Romania shows that pre-accession efforts did not bring major improvements, as 78% of residual waters did not go through a treatment process and only 52% of the population had access to drinking water (Ministry for Environment cited in FSD, 2009). Nonetheless, this has been linked more with the administrative and financial challenges of implementation, such as the low number of laboratories, than with the legal framework. The transposition of directive 98/83 was particularly important, as it provided the Romanian authorities with a solid framework of reference. Taking into account the extensive derogations in this field, we have yet seen the effects of EU accession on REP on water.
In the field of conservation, Romania benefited from the introduction of the Natura 2000 project in 2004 under the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive. The project was implemented in Romania through special ministerial orders and it covers 17.84% of the territory (Natura 2000, 2014). Nonetheless, gaps in implementation persist due to the fragmentation of institutional responsibility. This result in infringements of the Natura 2000 sites through illegal deforestation and fishing (Camera Deputaţilor, 2016).
In conclusion, Romania’s accession to the European Union had an overall positive impact on the national environmental policy. Nonetheless, due to its socialist legacy and inadequate financial and administrative capacities implementation did not meet European standards. In the case of air pollution, a better control mechanism should prevent further infringements. The same applies in the case of water, especially from 2017, when the derogations will expire and treatment plants are expected to better manage waste water. While conservation has seen major improvements, waste management has changed little since 1989. Consequently, more investment is needed to make Romania more sustainable, coupled with an increased political will. From a research point of view, our understanding of the REP needs to be enhanced, as currently there is very little data available. Future studies need to take into account the environmental problems highlighted by the Romanian NGOs.
 A few representative examples are Skjærseth and Wettestad, 2007; Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier, 2002; Crisen and Carmin, 2011.
* The references are not included in order to keep the post at a reasonable length. If you want to consult them, feel free to contact me.