Themis Network: Managing Natural Resources and Combating Environmental Crime
“The illegal logging projects implemented by the REC in our region served as a very important tool to raise awareness of the problem in the beneficiary countries and to encourage a cross-border response from our side. We were happy to be involved from the very beginning and also to see a process started with these projects, resulting in a more coordinated approach via the Themis Network.”
— Dragan Asanovic, Assistant Director, Environment Protection Agency, Montenegro
The fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia into some of Europe’s newest nation states has brought significant changes to South Eastern Europe (SEE) — and significant challenges as well. The Themis Network was established as a direct result of efforts to meet one regional challenge in particular: the need for the effective implementation and enforcement of natural resources legislation and the combating of environmental crimes, including illegal logging.
The Themis Network was established in November 2010. Its official launch was marked by the issuing of a joint declaration by the participating countries and the approval of the first multi-annual work programme (MAP) in the context of a conference on illegal logging and environmental crimes held in Budapest, Hungary.
Themis is a beneficiary-driven regional cooperation network of relevant authorities responsible for the environment and justice sectors in SEE (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) and the Republic of Moldova (Phase 2 only). Network operations are based on two MAPs, which have been designed in cooperation with, and endorsed by, the beneficiary countries for the 2011–2014 and 2014–2017 periods, and which are funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation.
Representatives of national authorities responsible for environment and forestry issued a joint declaration at a Themis Executive Committee meeting held in February 2013, which included the following conclusion: “Laws are ineffective without proper implementation and enforcement. As such, environmental governance and environmental crime prevention are keys to achieving sustainable development, a level playing field, a green economy and economic growth.”
Given the SEE region’s considerable vulnerability to climate change, emissions of conventional pollutants and loss of biodiversity, comprehensive action is needed to adapt to environmental threats. In addition, a regional strategy to build a more climate resilient society and economy must include ways of tackling environmental crime.
The project aims to strengthen regional cooperation in SEE countries via environmental law enforcement mechanisms targeting the environment and justice sectors, in line with the EU accession process. The Republic of Moldova is included in project activities in order to transfer knowledge and experience from the SEE region. The project has contributed to the better implementation and enforcement of the EU environmental acquis and has significantly improved inter-institutional and inter-governmental cooperation (i.e. between the judiciary, prosecutors’ offices, the police, ministries, universities, local governments, NGOs and regional and international networks) — not only in the field of the environment, but also in other areas of governance. The collateral impact of cooperation will transcend the restricted field of environmental crimes and reach into other areas. Added value for good governance in the region is expected to be created as a result.
An important aspect of the Themis project is its contribution to the EU approximation process. It provides assistance in a number of ways, including designing capacity-building events for officials working in the field of natural resources management; providing technical assistance to these officials and other authorities; supporting national networks of stakeholders in their various efforts to implement environmental law; networking and cooperating with international partners; and helping to develop training materials and guidelines.
The REC acts as secretariat of the Themis Network and supports network operations by:
- managing and implementing the activities outlined in the MAP;
- reviewing the implementation of the MAP and reporting to the Executive Committee;
- preparing draft documents and reports for the Executive Committee;
- disseminating the network’s outputs and coordinating general requests for information;
- maintaining the network’s website and other communication tools;
- liaising with partner institutions and networks;
- providing administrative and technical support to the network and the Executive Committee; and
- fundraising for the continuous and sustainable operation of the network.
With Phase I of the project now complete, Themis has already achieved some impressive results. Several training activities have delivered enhanced capacity in the SEE region for nature protection, forest management and the combating of environmental crime. In addition, stakeholders in each country have either reinforced or established new links with one another. The improved regional understanding and cross-border cooperation that have developed within the project have strengthened international partnerships. European Union member states outside the SEE region — mainly Austria, Croatia and Hungary — have contributed their expertise through exchanges of experience with Themis project stakeholders.
In terms of specific project deliverables, Themis has organised eight regional training events, six national training events, and one technical assistance workshop. These unique sessions have resulted in the direct training of 200 officials, while a further 800 officials have benefited indirectly from the trainings. Themis also produced two printed publications in early 2014: the Environmental Networking Handbook, and South Eastern Europe Environment Outlook 2013.
For the latest project information, please visit the Themis Network website: http://www.themisnetwork.eu/
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.