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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Roles and impacts of non-governmental organizations in Natura 2000 implementation in Hungary and Poland

The ecological network of Natura 2000, the major European Union (EU) initiative to halt biodiversity loss across Europe, has dominated biodiversity governance in the 12 new EU member states in recent years as its implementation was a condition of the accession. Natura 2000 brought new participation opportunities to environmental NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). To understand how these were used we looked at the differences in NGO involvement in Natura 2000 implementation in Poland and Hungary. In order to explain the role of NGOs in the policy process and their impact on the site selection, two theoretical frameworks proved to be useful: the advocacy coalition framework and policy network analysis. Both frameworks explain policy-making by looking at the dynamics between different networks or coalitions. While according to Policy Network Analysis, policy networks are defined mainly by resource interdependencies within interest groups (e.g. money, expertise, information), the Advocacy Coalitions Framework focuses on the role of values and beliefs in the formation of coalitions.

Even though the final outcome of the Natura 2000 implementation in Poland and Hungary in terms of percentage of protected area has been quite similar, the processes were different. We found that the differences could be attributed to the dynamics of changing coalitions and networks. The Natura 2000 process led to new interactions between state actors and NGOs and strengthened the position of the third sector in environmental policymaking; NGOs became an unavoidable actor in Natura 2000 implementation. The comparison of the two countries shows that NGOs were able to use their resources and opportunities in different and changing governance settings. The Hungarian and Polish actors, especially NGOs, did not simply react to EU pressure, but varied their strategies according to the political situation and governance setting of each country. Coalitions were formed based not only on resource dependencies between state and non-state actors, but also on shared beliefs.

Policy Network Analysis and the Advocacy Coalitions Framework proved helpful in investigating implementation of European biodiversity conservation policy in CEE. A coalition between state and non-state actors in nature conservation formed more easily in Hungary, where the ministry responsible for Natura 2000 implementation did not include other land-use sectors, than in Poland, where the ministry included a strong forestry agency, wary of potential restrictions. To pursue the implementation of Natura 2000 in Poland despite governmental reluctance, the NGOs formed a close policy network with the DG Environment of the European Commission. The NGOs had expertise that the DG Environment lacked, and could report deficiencies in the site selection process, while the EC had the power to discipline the government. In Hungary, the policy of the environmental ministry was largely in line with NGOs preferences and, consequently, a close cooperation developed between state and non-state actors. The resource dependencies between NGOs and the EC were, therefore, less evident than in Poland. In Poland, the conflict between NGOs and the government, promoted by their contrasting beliefs, contributed to policy-oriented learning of governmental officials to accommodate new ideas underpinning the European policy.

Since 2010, the Hungarian agricultural and environmental ministries have been merged into the Ministry of Rural Development – the Hungarian ministerial governance setting of today is thus similar to the situation found in Poland during Natura 2000 designation. Future research could therefore investigate the influence of the departmental structure on coalitions and networks involved in environmental policy-making and implementation.

Cent J., Mertens C., Niedziałkowski K. 2013. Roles and impacts of non-governmental organizations in Natura 2000 implementation in Hungary and Poland. Environmental Conservation 40. DOI:


1. Jagiellonian University, Institute of Environmental Sciences, ul. Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków, Poland;  

2. Jagiellonian University, Institute of Sociology, ul. Grodzka 52, 31-044 Kraków, Poland

3. St. István University, Institute of Environmental and Landscape Management, Páter K. u. 1., H-2103 Gödöllő, Hungary,  

4. Mammal Research Institute Polish Academy of Sciences, ul. Waszkiewicza 1, 17-230 Bialowieza, Poland;

5. Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, United Kingdom

The authors had equal contribution to the paper.

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