From land to sea, initiatives supporting Western Balkan and Turkish efforts to bolster environmental national policies deliver results

EPPA Western Balkans Turkey EU Acquis (Banner)

Many of the EPPA's targets aimed to improve the capacity of the countries for waste management, air quality management, marine protection and the like with solutions fostering environmentally responsible growth.

Accession to the European Union (EU) requires candidates to comply with its laws and standards, including those concerning the environment. The EPPA, a three-and-a-half-year programme led by NIRAS in partnership with Umweltbundesamt GmbH, has been fortifying the capacity of Western Balkan countries and Turkey to contribute to a greener Earth.

February 3, 2023
  • SDG: #6, #13, #14, #15
  • SECTORS: Development Consulting
  • COUNTRIES: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey
  • CLIENT: European Commission

In Turkey, the amount of particulates present in the air is above the World Health Organisation’s recommended threshold, threatening the health of the country’s entire population. In North Macedonia, the quality of water leaves many households and children exposed to disease. While in Kosovo, illegal logging maintains its hold on families who deem the practice to be their sole source of income.

These are only some of the worries plaguing Turkey and the Western Balkans, an EU-designated group of countries composed of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. Often, the same problems also develop in varying degrees across regions, making the need for dire changes in their environmental policies abundantly clear.

At the same time, this group of countries is working towards becoming members of the EU, whose rules concerning the environment are some of the strictest around the globe. To become a member of the Union, a country must meet certain prerequisites. One of them is being able to comply with the EU’s standards and rules. Since their application for membership, the Western Balkans and Turkey have been actively taking steps to move past their candidacy and prospective candidacy through summits, negotiations and other initiatives.

The EU Environment Partnership Programme for Accession (EPPA) is one such initiative. Recently ended after over three years of activities, the EPPA set out to do one thing: bring the Western Balkans and Turkey closer to EU good practice through mandates designed to protect their natural resources and the earth that provides them.

EPPA Photo Screenshot (4)

Aligning with the environmental ‘acquis’: a road towards meeting EU standards

There are economic and trade benefits to EU membership, partly due to its currency and huge market size, as well as the freedom to move around EU nations without trouble. But for some countries, meeting EU standards and regulations can be a painstaking process that takes years to wade through.

“With the EPPA, I believe we created a platform that stimulated the development of environmental governance in the regions,” NIRAS EPPA project manager Tomasz Łuczyński said. “We focused on transposition and the implementation of the environmental acquis through a regional lens.”


participants attending 67 capacity-building activities organised by the programme


events organised with participation from 133 civil society organisations


knowledge products to push the region in a greener direction

For the EPPA team, accomplishing the project’s goals through a regional lens meant finding key similarities in the environmental challenges the countries dealt with, as well as taking the time to hear out the beneficiaries’ experiences. As a result of this approach, they developed holistic capacity-building activities and materials rooted in the situation on the ground.

EPPA Western Balkans Turkey EU Acquis (12) (1)

In total, the programme generated 92 knowledge products – such as guidelines, reports, recommendations and flagship studies – to make knowledge transfer easier, cooperation in the region effortless and actionable steps possible in terms of enforcing the EU’s environmental rules. The documents also reflect the changes brought about by COVID-19 and the European Green Deal in 2020. The EPPA team also hosted 67 events, such as capacity-building workshops and technical meetings, involving about 2000 participants.

Notable achievements steering the beneficiary countries in a greener direction

With all the documents and events arising from the programme, what significant outcomes resulted from it? The core of the EPPA was to lay the foundation for stronger environmental laws. To make this happen, the team had to dive deep into the underlying problems disturbing the natural balance on both land and sea and tackled a wide range of issues, including preserving biodiversity, protecting marine life and combatting logging.

The first flagship study on green infrastructure deployment and ecological connectivity status in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia examines just how much the survival of different species in the regions hinges on biodiversity – and how human activity can be a threat to this interdependence. It also recommends how best to preserve local wildlife through “green and blue infrastructure, a network of ecological corridors”.

“The study has been widely recognised by the beneficiary countries,” said Tomasz. “They have used it for all kinds of legislative work and activities related to new projects, so we know it is something that has made a difference.”

EPPA Photo Screenshot (1)

The second flagship study, concerned with designating new marine protected areas (MPAs) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania, stresses the need for wider coverage of protected areas, particularly in the Adriatic Sea. This study helps not only to change the state of marine life there – it also serves as a basis for the regions’ accession.

Such designation, as well as its implementation in law, is among the conditions the countries must fulfil in order to gain membership to the EU.

A separate but related report on preventing and reducing marine litter and plastic pollution was also well-received by the Directorate-General for Environment as it showed a deep understanding of the Marine Framework Directive and its litter-related initiatives.

The final study on illegal logging and timber trade flows in the Western Balkans and Turkey pins down the types of illegal logging predominant in the region and the work that needs to be done for their forests to be fully protected.

These three studies served as markers indicating the success of the EPPA’s fifth component, whose focus is on building the nations’ capacity for managing transboundary nature protection issues. In total, there were seven components that ruled the way the programme ran. Many of the components aimed to improve the capacity of the countries for waste management, air quality management, marine protection and the like, each homing in on solutions that foster lasting and environmentally responsible growth.

EPPA deliverables in addition to the aforementioned studies:

  • Progress in the implementation of waste management roadmaps developed in the South-eastern Europe Waste Assessment (SEEWA) project;
  • Report on identifying measures, best available techniques and environmental practices to manage microplastics in marine areas;
  • Multiple comprehensive workshops on EU Directives with online documentation;
  • Supporting the Regional Cooperation Council in developing a marine litter agreement proposal.
EPPA Photo Screenshot (5)

Handling unforeseen events: how the EPPA programme adapted to the outbreak of COVID-19

As with any project, the EPPA’s wins are a result of the team’s years-long experience, expertise and ability to adapt, the latter being particularly relevant at the height of COVID-19.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the four-year programme was inevitably and significantly affected due to the restrictions in place. Originally, the EPPA team planned to arrange high-level meetings and workshops designed for face-to-face engagement, but because of COVID-19, the team had to enact an alternative solution immediately.

Instead of the original plan, they adopted the use virtual platforms for the activities in close collaboration with the European Commission’s Technical Assistance and Information Exchange. Meetings, workshops and several capacity-building events took place online and even substantially increased participation and attendance of the beneficiaries, the European Commission and the programme’s partners. Through swift action, the team was also able to organise two additional activities seeking “to capitalise [on] the work done by integrating project results in green infrastructure and ecosystem connectivity and the prevention of marine litter into a regional cooperation initiative,” extending the timeline designated for the programme, the final report says.

Overall, running the project was a success. And more than meeting the environmental standards of the EU, the programme hastened the restoration of ecological balance where it matters most.