Baltic Environmental Forum (BEF) was founded as a technical assistance project aiming to strengthen the co-operation among Baltic environmental authorities by the Baltic Ministries of Environment, Germany and the European Commission in 1995. Multi-stakeholder seminars, trainings, info-days and publications on EU environmental policy have served as key tools for meeting these objectives. Over time the core project was prolonged and BEF activities grew far beyond the initial project. BEF became accepted as an institution responsible for networking and experience exchange among environmental stakeholders in the Baltic States. The organization has contributed to the EU accession process of the Baltic States by organizing a large amount of events and trainings targeted at understanding the environmental legislation which was to be transposed and by facilitating the dialogue and experience exchange for the implementation of the new environmental legislation.
The new BEF
In order to keep the network active, BEF team - new NGOs in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Germany - was founded in 2003 . The organizations are independent in legal and fiscal terms, but they form a network of so-called "BEF Group" and have common goals and joint activities. The network character is laid down in an agreement of cooperation between all parties. According to this agreement, BEF Latvia functions as headquarter of the network and the other organizations are its members. Since 2004 "BEF Group" cooperates with the Centre of Transboundary Cooperation in St. Petersburg which became a formal member of "BEF Group" in 2005.
These five independent NGOs develop projects together mainly in the Baltic Sea region, which is the target region of the activities of the group. Each of the NGOs also acts on national level in its country, however multi-country projects are predominating.
BEF NGOs are operating based on projects and depend on grants and contracts. 2006 was the first time the network received EU support for environmental NGO actions in more than three countries – it was 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 like Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Characteristics of BEF projects are high quality seminars and training courses for different stakeholders. We have learned that environmental policy implementation problems, enforcement weaknesses and legislation gaps originate from the lack of communication and dialogue between stakeholders (not only in the Baltic States), therefore this is the niche where we are acting in.
"BEF group" does not see itself as an environmental pressure group but as a facilitator and supporter of dialogue, policy implementation and awareness raising. Projects implemented by BEF are envisaged to serve environmental administration, industry as well as the society. We participate in several NGO forums and national working groups as an NGO party.
Since being an NGO, BEF has applied and received grants mostly dealing with implementation of EU Environmental legislation at different stakeholder levels. We are still providing training and workshop programmes in combination with expert research to state authorities, local authorities and industry to raise their capacity in various environmental policy fields. Furthermore, we investigate legislation, implementation and enforcement gaps in three Baltic States and try to contribute to its improvement.