09. 09. 2010.

Wolfgang Suske: NGOs are Watchdogs for the Correct Implementation of Natura 2000

One of the best Natura 2000 experts, Viennese Wolfgang Suske, is currently working on several projects in Serbia, Romania, Croatia and Austria, through his firm Suske Consulting. He works on the rural development and social aspects of Natura 2000 projects as well as financing tools of Natura 2000 and the process of appropriate assessment of the most important articles of Birds and Habitats Directives. As a communication expert Suske has worked on projects in Romania and Malta, he was a team leader of the project “Implementation of Natura 2000 in Croatia”, and today he is an expert of a Twinning project in Serbia. Suske also lectures at the University of Natural Resources in Vienna, and the Klagenfurt University.

How many countries have you worked in as an expert for Natura 2000?
In the last 5 years I have worked in 15 countries, mostly in training courses and seminars for authorities or NGOs, but also for freelance offices and experts.

What can you say about your experience with the implementation of Natura 2000 – whether in Austria or other countries?

In Austria we were unable to start a professional participation process in time. We waited for the moment that farmers, foresters and other stakeholders asked for better and clear information. And we tried to use tactics in the designation process. It was interesting that big investors forced us to stop that because infringement procedures caused legal uncertainty – and for investors that is the biggest problem.

Do you have any brilliant advice for the countries that will implement Natura 2000 in the near future?
It might sound strange – but the brilliant idea is to sit together and develop this Natura 2000 network. To discuss together the importance of our nature, the added value of protected rivers, grasslands and forests but also the challenges for the social and economic sectors within regions. This is the key: to learn from each other and to build up the network on this cooperation.

What do you see as the biggest obstacles in the phase of implementation?
In many countries it is the deficit of human resources – for organization and administration of the designation, participation, management, development of financing tools, etc. If the implementers are weak – mostly because they are understaffed – you spend time with infringement procedures or complaints from the European Commission or investors. If the implementors are strong, Natura 2000 can become a great success story.

How important is the role of NGOs in Natura 2000?
I think in the area of nature conservation NGOs have never had a bigger role than with Natura 2000. They are watchdogs for its correct implementation and they can help a lot in management. In nearly all funding programs NGOs are potential applicants.The European Commission definitely counts on NGOs and are ready to listen to critical comments and constructive proposals.

Both Serbia and Montenegro have their own NGO networks – in Serbia more than 50 NGOs are involved, in Montenegro about 30. But communication seems to be their biggest problem up to now. As an expert for communication, do you have any advice for them? In general, what might be the best way to communicate when discussing Natura 2000?
Communication is no miracle. Each day we learn what kind of communication works and fails. The task of an expert might help to make those experiences visible. For the NGO network I have to start with a compliment: their organisation so far has been great. For Natura 2000 they should more and more clarify their own role. For each separate NGO. What can they support and what not. Where can they help – and where they need help. This should be exchanged face to face, especially during this phase.

You are an expert on a Twinning project in Serbia. Do you see any progress in work with institutions?
I see progress – of course. The Ministry and NGOs have had some very good meetings and outcomes with the team of the Twinning Project. It is nevertheless a process which demands patience from each side. We as a team have to learn to deal with the specific situation in Serbia. That makes us to experts: to start with listening. And the authorities have to deal with a lot of additional work – and, as I mentioned before limited resources. I admire the good will and the commitment of the institutions here.

What does the public in Austria think about Natura 2000?
Last year we started an evaluation project, a survey. We asked farmers and authorities “what they think now about Natura 2000”. The result was unexpected: more than 80% of those interviewed see Natura 2000 in a positive or neutral light.
Petra Boic Petrac

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