Sustainable Development as a Real Option for the new Development Impetus in the Southeastern Europe, by Janez Podobnik, Director of the International ECPD Institute for Sustainable Development, Urban Planning and Environmental Studies, Ljubljana, Slovenia*
*Published in: National and Inter-Ethnic Reconciliation, Religious Tolerance and Human Security in the Balkans -Human Security Concept Implementation-,(2011), Togo Takehiro, Negoslav P. Ostojić (ed.), ECPD: Belgrade.
Nowadays development cannot be measured only by economic indicators (such as GPD per capita). Instead it must include improvement in all dimensions: economic, social and environmental. And this can only be achieved through practices of sustainable development.
Slovenia presents itself as a country deeply involved in the European and Trans-Atlantic integrations. It has successfully not led the Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2008, but also chaired other international organizations (OSCE and The Council of Europe). As the only member of the European Union that comes from the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia has wide experience about political, social and inter-ethnic and historical relationships in the region. In the autumn of 2009 a new institution has opened its doors in Ljubljana – The ECPD International Institute for Sustainable Development, Urban Planning and Environmental Studies (Institute). I have with great pleasure accepted the responsibility of running the Institute as the first ECPD unit in Slovenia.
The current global economic and financial crisis has showed us the interconnectivity of the modern world. The crisis affected us all. The countries with once highest growth rates – among many from the Balkan Peninsula – plunged into recession. The current model of highly liberalized free market economy has reached its limits. The model has failed in assuring long-term economic growth that wouldn’t cause social and environmental upheavals. Countries have instead experienced social disintegrations and environmental degradation.
Countries of the South-Eastern Europe (mainly countries that were formed after the collapse of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia) were on a tough and bumpy road that leads them to full membership in the European Union even before the global economic crisis began. Now that the most influential members of the EU are preoccupied with their economic, social problems and global problems, the Balkans consequently moved away from their focus. This makes the situation for the so-called Western Balkan countries even more difficult.
Sustainable development brings not just environmental benefits but also social and political stability. This is especially important in the politically unstable regions such as the West Balkans. I believe sustainability must be seen in a broader perspective: as a way. Successfully coordinated inter-governmental sustainability policies in the region can make immense progress in building regional security. Since many environmental problems in the region are transboundary such cooperation can quickly give visible results to all sides involved. In addition complex environmental problems don’t know the divisions of the left-right political spectrum and/or ethnic boundaries. According to Artur Lyon Dahl, they affect all people regardless of their social, political, or ethnic background. With their highly visible positive outcomes, joint environmental programs can truly help rebuild trust and friendship among once warring and distrustful ethnic groups. In such case security can not be seen only in its political and sociological perspective but in a wider perspective that also includes the environmental component. Artur Lyon Dahl calls this as environmental security (Lyon Dahl 2009, 230-232). And furthermore such politics of sustainable development may in the future not only help the Balkan countries in creating new interregional and international bonds, but can be also applied to other crisis areas in the world from Africa and Asia.
Environmental policies on all levels, ranging from local, national and most importantly – international - could play a very important role in the future development of the countries of the South-Eastern Europe. The region needs constant support from the international actors on its path to reconciliation and stability, and the environmental factor today presents one of the more and more important aspects of the international involvement. Common sustainable development and environmental policies could also help the region to take over some of the responsibilities from the outside actors (EU, Stability Pact, OSCE). This ‘’takeover’’ by the region – according to Erhard Busek, Chairman of the Institute for Danube Region and Central Europe – is a very positive political signal. As dr Busek puts it – since the 19th century foreign superpowers have constantly intervened into regions’ affairs (Busek 2010, 192-193). Countries should find their own ways of cooperation and building trust – with the help of outside actors when needed – but mainly with their own contributions. And this is where we can find the biggest challenges and opportunities for the future of the annual ECPD conference. This could be an upgrade and continuation of the realization of the ECPD International Research and Educational Project ‘’National Reconciliation, Inter-ethnic and inter-confessional Tolerance in the Balkans’’, launched in 2005 (Togo, Ostojić 2009).
One of the cases of common environmental problems that help build trust among countries in the South-Eastern Europe is the new EU Strategy for the Danube region. The region includes EU-member countries and non-EU applicant countries. This intergovernmental initiative, led and coordinated by the European Commission, addresses different areas of development that are characterized by common problems facing the countries. Especially highlighted are environmental problems (ranging from water pollution, floods, climate change hazards that pose a threat to the biodiversity of the countries) and shipping potential and untapped transport possibilities of the river Danube. Region plays an important role in the European regional cooperation policies. The Danube region strategy is mostly being implemented via the Territorial Cooperation approach that is being put forward by European Territorial Cooperation Programs (ETC). The importance of the Danube region is apparent when assessing the number of the ETCs being ran in the Danube countries in the 2007-2013 period (EU Commission 2010).
Sustainable development as a solution doesn’t mean ‘’zero economic growth’’. This model simply brings new dimensions into industrial and development policies of today. It emphasizes the importance of energy supply from more durable sources. It brings into the limelight the (political) importance of a healthy and stable national food supply. It shows new possibilities for industrial development through recycling and conservation of energy. And this together can bring social and political stability – from local communities through, regions to national and finally international level. The local communal level is sometimes the best platform on which the first positive changes can be achieved. Good praxis leads to new ideas in other communities and slowly spreads to a higher regional or national level. The important thing is to show that sustainability isn’t an obstacle to the development. Instead, it can be the trigger/impetus that creates new ideas and solutions. Greenfield investments in renewable energy are a great potential for the Western Balkans region - either for production of renewable energy or manufacture of renewable energy equipment.
The international community, civic and academic institutions, governments and scientific institutions today waste too much of their time and effort trying to find political solutions for all the problems that have piled up in the region during the last decades. They tend to forget that next to their national, ethnic and religious dimensions/roots there are also deep development problems they must face. That is why in these times of a global financial and economic crisis new environmental and sustainability questions are beginning to enter into the spotlight. This means that wider solutions incorporating fields of energy, transport and environment are more and more crucial for the region of Southeastern Europe. And I believe the ECPD can play an important regional role as a promoter and coordinator.
Busek Erhard: Europe and its South-East Challenges and Necessities: On its Way to Political and Economic Integration with the EU. National and Inter-Ethnic Reconciliation, Religious Tolerance and Human Security in the Balkans. Proceedings of the Fifth ECPD International Conference, Brioni, Belgrade 2010.
Lyon Dahl, Artur: Environment as a Factor of Peace. National Reconciliation, inter-Ethnic and Inter Confessional tolerance in the Balkans. Reconciliation and Human Security. Proceedings of the Fourth ECPD International Conference, Brioni, Belgrade, 2009
Togo Takehiro, Ostojić P. Negoslav: Proceedings of the Fifth ECPD International Conference, preface, Brioni, Belgrade, 2009.
European Commission – Regional Policy Inforegio. EU Strategy for the Danube Region, http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/cooperation/danube/programmes_en.htm (27. .2011)
International ECPD Institute for Sustainable Development, Urban Planning and Environmental Studies. About us, http://ecpd.si/index.php?page=home&hl=en_US (27. .2011)
 The International ECPD Institute is the first institution of the European Center for Peace and Development (ECPD) in Slovenia. The activities of the international ECPD Institute are focused on presenting the importance of improving the quality of living through sustainable development, promoting ‘’green’’ technologies, new job opportunities, international and interregional cooperation and improving social cohesion. The activities of the –institute's ''parent organization'' ECPD are primarily focused on the transition economies of South-Eastern Europe. Slovenia with its numerous connections since the times of the former Yugoslavia still has understanding and interest in the region. ECPD's traditional focus of activities is on the field of reconciliation, religious tolerance and human security in the Balkans. Recently the ECPD has widened its views on regional security and stability by putting a much greater emphasis on environmental - sustainable dimension. This is also the field of work on which the Institute will focus its activities in the following years. In this orientation the Institute also has the full support of the ECPD executive director dr. Negoslav P. Ostojić. Source: International ECPD Institute for Sustainable Development, Urban Planning and Environmental Studies webpage
 EU countries are as follows: Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania. Non-EU countries are: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Ukraine, and Moldova.
 The common challenges that the region is facing and that the EU Strategy for the Danube Region is trying to address are: 1. environmental threats (water pollution, floods, climate change) 2. Untapped shipping potential and lack of road and rail transport connections 3. Insufficient energy connections 4. Uneven socio-economic development 5. Uncoordinated education, research and innovation systems 6. Shortcomings in safety and security
 From the total of 94 ETC programmes, 41 of them are being ran in the Danube region (18 cross-border programmes, 7 Transnational programmes, 13 IPA CBC Programmes and 3 ENPI programmes). Source: European Commission, EU Strategy for Danube Region webpage