The Baltic Environmental Forum (BEF) was founded in 1995 by the Baltic Ministries of Environment, Germany and the European Commission as a technical assistance project aiming at strengthening the co-operation among the Baltic environmental authorities. Multi-stakeholder seminars, trainings, information days and publications on EU environmental policy have been the key tools for meeting these objectives. Over time the core project was prolonged and the BEF activities grew far beyond the initial project. BEF became accepted as institution for networking and experience exchange among environmental stakeholders in the Baltic States. The organization has contributed to the EU accession process in the Baltic States with a large amount of events and trainings targeted at understanding of the environmental legislation to be transposed and facilitating dialogue and experience exchange for its implementation.
In order to keep the network active the BEF team has founded in 2003 new NGOs in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Germany. Since 2004 the BEF Group cooperates with the Centre of Transboundary Cooperation St. Petersburg, who became formally a member in the BEF Group in 2005. The organizations are independent in legal and fiscal terms, but they form a network as so-called “BEF Group” and have common goals and joint activities. The network character is laid down in an agreement on cooperation between all parties. According to this agreement BEF Latvia functioned as headquarter of the network and the other organizations are its members until spring 2010. From spring 2010, BEF Germany took over the role of the headquarter.
The five independent NGOs develop projects together mainly in the Baltic Sea region, which is the target region of the operations of the organizations. Each of the NGOs also acts on national level in its country, however multi-country projects are predominating.
The BEF NGOs are operating project based and depend on grants and contracts. In 2006 the network received first time the EU support for environmental NGOs acting in more than three countries – a kind of small core funding.
The goals of the BEF Group are to act in various fields of environmental policy with regard to capacity building, experience transfer and facilitation of different stakeholders in the Baltic Sea region. Additionally it is envisaged to extend the scope of activities to other countries in Eastern Europe - to make use of our location and facilitate cooperation with the neighbouring countries Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Characteristics of BEF projects are high quality seminars and training courses for different stakeholders. Our “opinion” on problems with environmental policy implementation, enforcement weaknesses and legislation gaps (not only in Baltic States) is derived from our learning that communication and dialogue among the stakeholders is missing and this is the niche we were and are acting in.
The BEF group does not understand itself as environmental pressure group, but as facilitators and supporters to dialogue, policy implementation and awareness raising. Projects implemented by BEF are envisaged to serve environmental administration, industry as well as society represented by NGOs. We participate in a few NGO forums and national working groups as a NGO party.
Since being an NGO, the BEF has applied and received mostly grants dealing with implementation of EU Environmental legislation at different stakeholder level. We are still providing training and workshop programmes in combination with expert analyses to state authorities, local authorities and industry to raise their capacity in various environmental policy fields. Furthermore, we investigate on legislation, implementation and enforcement gaps in the three Baltic States and try to contribute to its improvement.
Recently, BEF has also widened actions towards public awareness raising actions on single environmental issues, such as river basin planning, Natura 2000, chemicals in products or eco-labelling. We are newly addressing the general public and other NGOs as multipliers for raising public awareness on these environmental policy fields as well.
Projects are the main activity of the BEF NGOs and BEF currently working in the following policy fields:
- Nature conservation & Natura-2000 implementation,
- Water policy & river basin management,
- Waste & hazardous waste management,
- Chemical policy development and chemicals management at industry,
- Industrial pollution reduction,
- Energy efficiency and climate change.
- Consumers awareness raising on product choice & handling,
- Enforcement of environmental policy, implementation at local and municipal level.
The BEF Group is neither a traditional “green” NGO nor a consulting group, but you find elements of both in our performance. However, the BEF has some special features derived from its previous activities and status:
One special feature is the regional approach with actively cooperating offices in the three Baltic States, which has created a strong regional identity among the staff but as well among participants of BEF events & projects. The BEF is focusing its project acquisition efforts on multi-national projects to keep exactly this special feature alive. Widening the network to other countries around the Baltic Sea or further Eastern Europe and acting in a larger regional context is a goal of the BEF group, but it will also be a major challenge.
Another feature of the BEF are the good contacts to all society groups acting in environmental policy and management: the BEF has build up a good network among different ministries and subordinate organisations, municipalities, industry, trade unions, environmental and other NGO’s, as well as experts from different institutes and organisations – all those actors frequently participate in BEF events or different projects and accept the role of the BEF as motor for experience exchange and transboundary cooperation..
The BEF group comprises a wide expertise of its team ranging from traditional environmental topics such as waste management, nature conservation, industrial pollution and water management to more exotic topics such as chemicals policy and consumer information. Although being a networking organization, members of the BEF team participate with their expertise in international projects and produce outputs like management plans for protected areas, environmental data analyses or industry training manuals.
One of the features the BEF got famous among the environmental family in the Baltic States is its event management skills. BEF events are attested high quality with regard to programme as well as organization - no doubt that 15 years experience with more than 500 multi-national seminars can be noticed easily.